Media in California will need a license for backstretch access

Media in California will need a license for backstretch access
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Journalists with a “regular presence” at California racetracks will be required to have a racing license to access the backstretch areas, state regulators said in an advisory issued on Monday.

The California Horse Racing Board said affected journalists would have until Aug. 31 to come into compliance. To do so, they would need to be fingerprinted, pass a criminal background check and pay $75 to acquire a CHRB “Z” (Other) license. It would be good for two to three years depending on the applicant’s birthdate, the CHRB said.

The requirement for racing journalists to be licensed in California is the first in the U.S. Racing media including Horse Racing Nation have begun pushing back against the regulation. On Tuesday, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB), which has six members affiliated with HRN, sent a letter to the CHRB stating it "vehemently opposes" the action.

"The requirement by the CHRB for members of the news media to purchase a license sets an unnecessary and bad precedent for the racing industry besides the First Amendment implications of government licensing the free press," the letter reads. "If media members needed to be licensed, the same logic could be twisted to say the CHRB then could discipline media members as well. "

For media members “who request infrequent access to the stable area,” a license would not be required. Instead, they would need to sign in as a guest at the stable gate before entering. CHRB spokesman Mike Marten told HRN the definition of “infrequent access” has yet to be determined.

According to Marten, the advisory issued Monday stemmed from a “former exercise rider who now works for a racing network” trying to renew her exercise license. It was pointed out “she was not eligible for the license because she has not exercised horses in years.”

That prompted a review of backstretch access that eventually reached CHRB executive director Scott Chaney and Shawn Loehr, chief of enforcement and licensing. Marten said it was then determined there was a rule already on the books that “was not being enforced in regards to news media.”

CHRB rule 1481 (A) states that “a person acting in any capacity within the restricted area of an inclosure, simulcast facility or auxiliary stabling area shall procure the appropriate license(s) and pay the fee required.”

The NTWAB disagreed that the rule should apply to journalists, noting "members of the news media are acting independently and not in the involvement of operation of a racetrack and/or care for racehorses."

Marten acknowledged there were still details to be ironed out with the licensing requirement, including how it would impact next year’s Breeders’ Cup when media from around the world will converge on Santa Anita.

Also weighing in on the topic Tuesday was the trade organization Associated Press Sports Editors, which sent a letter of its own to the CHRB condemning the action:

"In short, in the strongest possible terms, we object to it in that it allows you the ability to control the coverage and make us pay a fee for the 'privilege.' Nowhere in the directive does it even explain what offenses might disqualify someone from getting a license or if it is just the whim of a staffer," the letter reads. "It’s our understanding this move was made without consulting any media groups for input.

"We have had similar attempts for background check requirements from everyone from the NFL to the NBA to NASCAR to the United States Olympic Committee. In every case we have prevailed. It is up to us to determine the quality and honesty of our employees, not you."

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