Many of Arizona's newspapers, including this one, are locked in a public dispute with the state high school sports association over how much control that government-sanctioned group can assert over media photography from post-season tournament games.
Basically, the Arizona Interscholastic Association has said that if newspapers want to photograph such tournaments this fall, they will have to stop selling reprints of their work or receive some kind of written approval from the association first. We pointed out on these pages Sept. 9 that the media credential crafted by the AIA to enforce this policy would, at least in theory, require newspapers to hand over all First Amendment and intellectual property rights, not just those for photo reprints sold to the public.
In a conversation on Sept. 10 with a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, AIA chief operations officer Chuck Schmidt said newspapers are not taking seriously the association's concerns about potential misuse of photos taken at sporting events that could harm high school athletes. Schmidt pointed to two recent examples in the past year from California: photos of male water polo players that were discovered on gay porn Web sites, and competition photos of a female pole vaulter that became the subject of virtual leering around the Internet that she felt came close to stalking.
In hindsight, we must agree with the AIA on this point - no one wants to see high school athletes sexually exploited or their privacy unreasonably invaded. However, the AIA has picked the wrong target and is using the wrong tools in its attempt to protect students.
The situation with the water polo photos actually was uncovered by our sister newspaper, The Orange County Register, and one of the biggest culprits had no connection to the media but was a civilian employee of a southern California police department. In the case of the pole vaulter, the original photo that launched everything was essentially stolen from the Web site of a photojournalist who, unfortunately, sought to protect his copyrights after the athlete already had become a target of the Internet's dark side, the Washington Post reported.
The news media can't afford the long-term erosion of its credibility through the misuse of its work, so we already are working as an industry to legally thwart such actions and to expose their perpetrators to public scrutiny.
The AIA complicates this effort by seeking to insert itself into matters generally recognized as belonging solely to newspapers and other media on constitutional grounds.
The fundamental principle remains unchanged. The Tribune and other news media can provide credible, independent information and hold those in power accountable only if we aren't expected to transfer control of our work - stories, graphics or photographs - to outside forces that govern or oversee taxpayer-subsidized events.