IHSA ban harms students, media

As the student athletes in our coverage area advance to state competition, we strive to provide the best possible upclose coverage. Unfortunately, the very organization that sponsors those competitions is hampering us from doing that.

The individual state wrestling tournament this weekend is the first time that we will be faced with sitting alongside fans, away from the wrestling matches, as we attempt to cover that event.

The Illinois High School Association has contracted with a Milwaukee photography firm that has the opportunity to generate revenue from those upclose shots taken from the mats and at the awards stand.

In order for us to gain access to areas set aside for the working press, we and all other newspapers in the state must sign a waiver. By signing that document, we promise not to generate any revenue from state competition photos. In other words, the IHSA wants to tell newspapers what they can and cannot do with photographs their photographers shoot at these events.

If parents want to buy from their local newspaper a compact disc containing state tournament photos of their sons and daughters, thats not allowed, the IHSA says.

In order words, the IHSA is attempting to ensure that no one else other than the out-of-state photo company makes money from the state tournament coverage. More importantly, by putting such restrictions on newspapers, the IHSA is demanding that we relinquish our First Amendment rights to cover tax-supported school activities.

In doing so, the IHSA has put the students smack dab in the middle of this fray. These very individuals that the organization claims to serve are now pawns in a power play over money.

The bottom line is that the newspapers that provide solid coverage of these student athletes throughout their seasons cannot do so when they are celebrating their once-in-a-lifetime experience in state competition.

To date, the IHSA has refused press privileges to about a half dozen newspapers, five during the football playoffs and one during the recent cheerleading competition. We can expect that number to climb drastically in the near future, as the IHSA prepares to host the state wrestling and basketball championships.

The IHSA is arguing that newspapers are challenging its new rules strictly for any profit they may see. Thats not true. At The Leader-Union, we don’t charge students or parents for electronic copies of photographs; we figure that’s one way we can help provide scrapbook memories for those students. For us, there’s no profit motive.

The real issue here is that the IHSA is attempting to blackmail newspapers into signing the waiver in return for press passes. The association has overstepped its bounds, and is now attempting to prohibit newspapers from adequately covering public events involving public school students in public arenas.

Thats a First Amendment issue, not a financial one.

rb, db

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