International news agencies, including AFP, warned Tuesday they may be forced to suspend coverage of the Test cricket series between India and England to protest restrictions imposed by authorities.
The News Media Coalition, which represents a group of media organisations, "deplored" a decision by the Board of Cricket Control for India (BCCI) to bar photo agencies such as Getty Images and Action Images and urged it to rethink.
Any suspension would deprive millions of cricket fans of coverage of one of the most-eagerly anticipated series of the year, which starts on Thursday. "In our view, the BCCI's move will hit fans and cricket sponsors alike," said Andrew Moger, the executive director of the London-based coalition.
"The BCCI has offered to make its own photographs available but this is no substitute for independent and objective press photography." While accreditation has only been withheld from photo agencies, other news organisations fear the move sets a dangerous precedent.
"Despite numerous opportunities, the BCCI has yet to explain why it is discriminating against photographic agencies or indeed whether other news sectors will be targeted," said Moger, whose organisation campaigns against reporting restrictions.
"We deplore this move and insult to organisations which have supported cricket worldwide." In a statement, Agence France-Presse said the agency would not provide text and photo coverage of the four-Test series unless the matter could be resolved ahead of the series.
The agency said it "strongly believes the right of the media to cover news events without undue restrictions should be protected", adding it hoped "the BCCI will lift its policy so news media and fans can continue to get independent coverage".
Reuters and the Associated Press also said they may be forced to suspend coverage. BCCI media manager Devendra Prabhudesai said the board was not seeking to bar news agencies.
"The BCCI has a policy not to accredit photo syndication services like Getty Images and other similar foreign and domestic agencies," he told AFP. "We have no such problems with AFP, AP or Reuters since their text and photo service is for editorial use only. We have already explained our stand to the News Media Coalition."
The accreditation dispute is the latest between the BCCI and media organisations in the build-up to the series. Satellite broadcaster Sky, which holds the British rights to the series, is set to commentate from its London headquarters off a live picture feed rather than pay a reported additional 500,000 pounds ($795,000) to the BCCI.
The BBC however has reached an agreement with the BCCI to broadcast live from the venues after the Indian board reportedly demanded an extra 50,000 pounds in addition to the already-agreed fee for the rights to cover broadcast costs.