News agencies to boycott second test after talks stall

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SYDNEY, Nov 14 (Reuters) International news agencies are planning to extend their boycott of Australian cricket after attempts to broker a deal over media coverage stalled.

Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse are all expected to boycott this week's second test between Australia and Sri Lanka starting on Friday in Hobart in protest at Cricket Australia's demands.

Cricket Australia wants the media organisations to pay for the right to distribute photographs from the event but the agencies are refusing, saying it threatens journalistic integrity.

''Reuters remains adamant on its right to distribute sports news pictures freely,'' said Monique Villa, Managing Director of Reuters Media.

''I met with Cricket Australia last Sunday in London and nothing has really changed: they want to control our news and who can receive it, which is totally unacceptable.'' The three international agencies were locked out of last week's first test in Brisbane but were hoping to find a solution in time for the second test.

Sri Lankan cricket authorities have appealed to Cricket Australia to end the dispute because of concerns it will reduce coverage of spinner Muttiah Muralitharan breaking the world record for the most test wickets.

Muralitharan is six wickets short of equalling Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne's world record of 708 test match scalps and could achieve the milestone in the Hobart test.

Reuters said Cricket Australia had conceded on the key issue of licence fees -- a fee to cover the event -- but most other points were still problematic.

''CA has withdrawn its claim for a licence fee, which shows progress, but we are at a standstill on the remaining issues,'' Villa said.

Those include the agencies' right to sell photographs to individuals freely and a dispute over the categories of news organisations the agencies were free to sell pictures to.

''Regretfully we will have to maintain the boycott of coverage for the next test with Sri Lanka in Hobart,'' Villa added.

Cricket Australia spokesman Peter Young said he was still hopeful a resolution could be found.

''The good news is that the agencies are talking to us again...we were very disappointed when they wouldn't come back to the table,'' Young told Reuters.

''This is a complex negotiation but we're very keen to talk it through and come up with a resolution.'' Cricket Australia's stance has divided the cricket community.

Indian cricket authorities say they support Australia's actions and may introduce similar restrictions on media for their home matches.

However, Australian politicians, trade union leaders and sections of the media have accused Cricket Australia of being ''greedy''.

''That is definitely not the case. There are a number of issues here that don't just relate to cricket but to all sports,'' Young said.

''The world is changing and if people want to sit down and look at the issues instead of the lurid newspaper headlines then I think they'll see that this really is a complex issue.'' A coalition of New Zealand newspapers has written to Cricket Australia saying they will resist demands to limit media coverage during next month's Chappel-Hadlee series. The International Cricket Council said it hopes the dispute is resolved amicably.

The media row comes at a delicate time for cricket officials, with the game still reeling from the negative coverage over the organisation of this year's World Cup in the West Indies and global attendances and television ratings declining.

Australia are the highest ranked team in world cricket but only 55,953 people attended the five days of the first Sri Lanka test.

Television viewing figures were down nearly 41 per cent on last year, according to a report in today's Daily Telegraph.

REUTERS AB SSC1126

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