Thursday, February 8, 2007

Public Funds and Media Access

The Associated Press is reporting that "Two Missouri lawmakers are challenging a National Football League policy prohibiting local television stations from covering games on the sidelines...Legislation filed Tuesday would force the NFL to allow local TV cameras on the sidelines of games hosted by the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams, both of whom play in publicly subsidized stadiums. Media denied reasonable sideline access could sue for damages. Since a Missouri law cannot overturn a nationwide NFL policy, the bill focuses solely on the two stadiums in Missouri. It says that any entity owning, operating or leasing a stadium for which at least 10 percent of the construction costs came from state or local taxes cannot prohibit media photographers from having reasonable access to the sidelines of the playing field."
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It seems that this makes some sense. Yet, with the broader definition of media these days (bloggers have been granted media credentials in many cases) it could be an all or nothing case. Either you let all bona fide media access the venue, or none, otherwise face a restraint of trade claim. Further, since almost all stadiums nowadays have substantial public funding behind them, this bill could have far reaching consequences for those watching in other jurisdictions.

The one thing that has kept bona fide members of the press (especially freelance ones) from bringing a restraint of trade suit against the leagues is simply having the financial backing to do so. If you've ever called a team PR department and told "that's nice that you are media, and have a press credential, but unless your circulation is X, we can't give you a credential" and hung up frustrated, the primary hurdle precluding you from forcing the issue - and winning - is the finances to file a "restraint of trade" claim. What is restraint of trade? Simply put, it's "An action or condition that tends to prevent free competition in business, as the creation of a monopoly or the limiting of a market."

Each person would need to file seperately, and, in the meantime, you'd have to get an injunction preventing a team from restraining you at each game.

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