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News agencies boycott wedding over rights row

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09:17 CEST+02:00
The world's top news agencies, AFP, AP and Reuters, declined to cover Sweden's royal wedding on Saturday after public broadcaster SVT refused to drop its price for video images of the event.

In a note to its subscribers hours before the ceremony was to begin at 3:30pm, AFP explained that "due to restrictions by Swedish public television SVT on images of the marriage ... (AFP) will not distribute text, photos, or videos" of the event.

The three global agencies were unable to resolve their disagreement with SVT ahead of the ceremony and decided not to cover the event despite having additional journalists, photographers and cameramen in Stockholm.

The dispute related to the royal court's decision to grant exclusive broadcast rights inside Stockholm Cathedral to SVT, as well as the amount charged by the public broadcaster to purchase its footage and the terms of use attached.

The amount requested by SVT "largely surpasses the market price," said Christine Buhagiar, who heads AFP's video service AFPTV.

SVT meanwhile insisted the price was "standard."

Sweden's royal court has said the festivities surrounding the 32-year-old princess's wedding to her former personal trainer would be the biggest event ever organised in Stockholm.

SVT head of communications, Helga Baagoe, said the three news agencies had been given the choice of what kind of broadcast rights they wanted to purchase from the event and could have chosen to "pay more to get more."

"We are very surprised by their reaction," she told AFP, adding that SVT had thought it had an agreement with the three agencies. "We are following normal practice here."

The decision "to take measures that penalises other media, who will not get text and pictures," was "very regrettable," she said.

According to Baagoe, the disagreement was over "completely ordinary terms of use and SVT cannot in any way take responsibility for these strange measures."

The three agencies contacted the royal court Saturday morning in hopes it would intervene, but in vain.

In an email addressed to the head of communications at the royal court, Nina Eldh, the agencies said "owing to the impasse over unrestricted television news access to today's wedding ceremony, Reuters, AFP and the Associated Press have decided to withdraw from coverage of the event."

In the email, also copied to Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, the agencies said they "will not be distributing still pictures, text or video reports relating to it anywhere in the world."

"We have made this decision reluctantly and at great cost both to ourselves and our subscribers," they said, calling on the court to come with "any suggestions you might have as to how the situation could be resolved."

AFP global news director Philippe Massonnet said "this battle aims to enable us to better inform the public."

He went on to decry "the increasingly commercialised use" of large events by their promoters.

"This has become common in sports but now affects all kinds of events, especially involving celebrities," he said.

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