Photographers have reacted with anger to the plan, which came into effect last weekend, but Bristol Rovers FC claims the ban is necessary to protect their media rights.

But the club have already been forced to lift a similar ban on cup matches after just one game following intervention from the Football League, which represents the 72 clubs which make up Division One, Division Two and Championship leagues.

In a statement released last week, the club said: “This season the only photographers being allowed into Bristol Rovers home matches will be those representing the away club and those requesting attendance from our local media. All other photographers/agencies should contact our club photographer Jeff Davies directly should they require images of Bristol Rovers matches.”

Bristol Rovers director Geoff Dunford told EPUK that the club has now agreed to allow photographers to attend Cup matches, but said that restrictions would still be in place for local league games.

No coverage

Two national picture desks told EPUK that the ban left them with no pictures from last Saturday’s match against Crystal Palace. While the club photographer was one of the few allowed into the match, no photographs were sent out, leaving Sunday and daily national newspapers with no photographic coverage of the match.

The British Association of Journalists’ (BAJ) General Secretary Steve Turner had described the ban as “an attack on the freedom of the press”, adding that it was also “an attack on the photographers’ right to pursue their trade without unreasonable restriction.”

“If this is allowed to stand, then the Premier League would be doing it next week, and us photographers won’t be taking pictures this time next year”, one photographer told EPUK.

Ban was to stop a particular agency

Bristol Rovers director Geoff Dunford told EPUK that the ban had been introduced because he alleges one or more local picture agencies were breaking the terms of their Football League licence by selling images taken at Bristol Rovers games for non-editorial purposes.

“It has come to our notice from one particular agency, and I do believe that it goes against the agreement agencies have with the Football League and DataCo.”

Currently, photographic accreditation for Premiership and Football League matches is granted by Football DataCo on the basis that images shot are only used for editorial purposes.

“It is a change of position because we’ve spoken to the Football League, and whilst they say our media rights are ours, it’s a question of being reasonable to those people who are still having to do a job.”

“It’s not the photographers employed directly with national newspapers that we have a problem with. It’s the number of agencies who are taking pictures and selling them on websites and everything else that we have a problem with.”

“We probably did go a little heavy handed to start with, but after talking to the Football League we’re refining the system.”

Doubt as to quality of club coverage

Dunford admitted that the club is setting up its own agency to market images taken at matches: “We’d prefer it if people used our agency, which is probably more reasonable than outside agencies. It will sell at a reasonable price and the profits wil go to the club.”

The club’s new agency, Bristol Rovers Stadium Media is still in the process of being set up, and the club’s current official photographer Jeff Davis is to join the new company as an employee.

But photographers who currently work at the Bristol Rovers Ground for national newspapers have cast doubt on whether any club agency would have been able to secure the same editorial coverage as they currently do.

Currently, photographers supplying Sunday newspapers with pictures from a Saturday match edit and transmit images from the pitchside. For late kickoff games, images need to be filed as early as fifteen minutes into the match in order to meet deadlines.

“The variety and quality of pictures from half-a-dozen or so professional photographers who cover the team’s matches are bound to be vastly superior to the pictures from one club photographer” said BAJ General Secretary Steve Turner.

“The club photographer on his own can’t possibly match the speed of distribution of the professional photographers whose jobs and fees depend on getting the pictures to their paper on time. The club may imagine that it will make a killing on fees, but most papers won’t use the club pictures because they won’t be good enough and, if any are, they will probably arrive too late for publication.”

Previous ban attempt

Bristol Rovers first attempted a more extensive ban back in May, but were forced to back down following protests. Dunford now admits that the club had been “rash” with the earlier ban.

Their initial statement in May read: “Due to a restructuring of the Media elements at Bristol Rovers FC all image rights are now vested in club photographer Jeff Davis…No agencies will be permitted to take photographs at any Bristol Rovers home matches.”

But the scheme collapsed after protests, and most agencies and photographers were granted accreditation to photograph the Bristol Rovers v Lincoln City playoff on May 12th.

In 2002, Celtic attempted to obtain copyright of any photographs taken at Glasgow’s Celtic Park in return for granting accreditation. The rights grab was revoked after newspapers ran blank spaces where match photographs should have appeared.

Richard Lappas, an experienced photographer who has supplied national newspapers with sport photographs for over 30 years said that the ban potentially represents a “significant loss of income” for him. “Up until recently, they have needed people like me, sitting on the touchline in the rain, getting them coverage. Maybe now they’re in Division one, they feel they don’t need the coverage any more.”