Blatter tries to gag 2010 reporters
by Andrew Jennings
Sunday January 24, 2010
As criticism of FIFA grows in South Africa over the huge prices being demanded for World Cup tickets, travel and hotel rooms, Sepp Blatter’s Thought Police are swinging into action, threatening to ban reporters who dare to write stories ‘bringing FIFA into disrepute.’
Thabo Leshilo, head of the South African newspaper editors media freedom committee, says, ‘It's outrageous what Fifa are getting away with.’ There is also anger that newspapers will be forbidden to sell copies within 800 metres of stadiums - even if this is usual practice at local games. Street vending is an important source of income for poorer South Africans – who will never be able to afford World Cup tickets.
News reporters are worried that they may not be allowed to report any ‘colourful’ incidents involving FIFA officials or competing teams – or name their hotels.
South African media commentator Gill Moodie reported last week, ‘Imagine team members get drunk and into a barney in the bar. Imagine a team member has a party of prostitutes in his hotel room? Or, it could be a good news story: a player touched by the plight of a poor hotel cleaner promises to help put her children through school. You can't write a hard news story without the hotel's name and comment from the manager as it just won't be believable to readers.’
FIFA spokesman Pekka Odriozola insists, ‘Freedom of the press is guaranteed. That is very important for us and you will be able to cover the World Cup in the best possible conditions.
‘We have never had any problem before. They have been examined by international organisations. Really, there is nothing to fear.’
But German sports reporter Thomas Kistner of the Munich Süddeutsche Zeitung disagrees. ‘The German media were concerned about the Fifa terms and conditions before the 2006 World Cup. The World Association of Newspapers threatened to sue FIFA to protect freedom of the press.’
FIFA, who long ago abandoned their slogan ‘For the Good of the Game’ would never have risked a confrontation with the powerful German media in 2006.
Professor Anton Harber, former editor of Johannesburg’s Mail & Guardian said, ‘Fifa has banished those people who try to make a living around the stadiums, they have made us divert development money into fancy stadiums, and we have had to give up all sorts of rights for the month they will be in control of our cities.
‘That’s all well and good for the sake of the big event. But if they mess with our freedom of speech, as they seem to want to do with their list of restrictions on journalists who apply for accreditation, they are going to have a fight on their hands. We don't give up our constitutional principles lightly.’