SUNSHINE WEEK: Illinois photographers fight for unfettered access to high school games

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A citizen's right to know and journalists' rights to report are threatened every day, say the organizers of Sunshine Week, who planned the weeklong program to highlight freedom of information issues and emphasize the importance of open government. The Student Press Law Center is celebrating Sunshine Week with a series of reports on access issues -- including how student journalists can encourage open government and use open records to expand their journalistic horizons and let the sunshine in.

ILLINOIS -- As the battle between the Illinois High School Association and professional newspaper photographers continues, whether the dispute affects high school photographers and schools that resell photos is unknown.

The IHSA currently requires photographers attending its events to sign an agreement that they will not resell their photos for profit because of the association's exclusive contract with Visual Image Photography, Inc. ("VIP").

The Illinois Press Association, along with the State Journal-Register and the Northwest Herald commercial newspapers, challenged IHSA media policies with a lawsuit filed Nov. 1 in state court. Their complaint argues that the restrictions "constitute an unconstitutional prior restraint on plaintiff's constitutionally protected activities."

Corinna Zarek, freedom of information director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said partnerships such as that between IHSA and VIP are becoming more of a trend around the country.

"This is a very troublesome trend to see high schools, often publicly funded, limiting the public's access to their events," she said. "Both parents and journalists are finding it very disturbing to have only limited access to photograph important events in students' lives."

Anthony Holman, assistant executive director of IHSA, said anyone who wants to take photos, including the student journalists from schools whose teams are in IHSA tournaments, would be asked to sign the acknowledgement. He said about half of high schools have some sort of representative taking pictures for the yearbook or newspaper.

Ian Finder, yearbook editor at Evanston Township High School, has been traveling to take photos of Evanston's team, which got third place in the IHSA Boys Class 4A basketball semifinals March 15.

Finder said when faculty or community members ask for reprints, he and his staff have been giving the photos away because they are unsure what would happen if they sold the pictures. He said the issue is "very convoluted."

"I'm sure if we did [sell reprints] the IHSA would come after us ... We just don't know," he said.

Finder said he has never had a problem getting into an IHSA event and has yet to sign an agreement, but he has seen several professional photographers get questioned at IHSA events.

Sally Turner of the Eastern Illinois High School Press Association said she has not heard of any high school journalists being asked to sign the agreement.

"This has been on our minds ... if it has happened, I'm sure [the students] would go to their local papers," she said.

Turner said she does not know how many schools regularly resell IHSA photos.

Beth Bennett, government affairs manager for the IPA, said she has not heard of any incidents involving high school photographers and the IHSA.

"Of all the blogging that's gone on and all the thousands of stories that have been written I haven't heard of any problems with high school [photographers]," Bennett said.

However, she said if high schools selling IHSA photos was an issue, the IHSA would subject high school photographers to the same regulations as professionals.

Identical bills backed by the IPA that now sit in the state Senate and House -- HB 4582 and SB 1997 -- would allow Illinois newspapers to sell photos they take at high school athletic events.

HB 4582 says no public elementary or secondary school in Illinois, nor any entity that sponsors school athletic events, may regulate the dissemination of news or the use of visual images.

Bennett said she does not see any trouble with getting the bill passed.

"We rely on the statutory definition of media ... so the way our bill is written, we defined media to include TV and radio and everything else," she said. "So now the IHSA has got a bigger problem than what they started with."

Illinois, news, Sunshine Week