PARIS (Reuters) - An international group of commercial broadcasters and global news agencies complained on Monday about access to this week's 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, fearing heavy costs to secure access to images.
France will on Friday host the United States' Barack Obama, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Russia's Vladimir Putin and other world leaders for a day of events around the beaches of Normandy, where Allied troops in 1944 mounted history's largest amphibious assault to speed the end of World War Two.
But what could be the last big commemoration with a major gathering of surviving veterans is mired in a row over French broadcasters' handling of the so-called "pool" - the widespread arrangement under which media groups agree to share material.
While Europe's national, often publicly-run broadcasters can secure access to the images via the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), commercial stations and the news agencies that distribute such coverage around the world said the arrangements for them were still surrounded in confusion.
"We are getting very close to the event itself and nobody seems able to give us satisfactory guarantees as to what the situation is going to be," said Mark Evans, Head of News for the ENEX broadcaster association, with members in some 40 countries across Asia, the Americas and Africa.
"This is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with worldwide appetite for coverage of a commemoration for one of the major events of World War Two - an event in which people from many nations across Europe and wider lost their lives," he added.
Privately-held French broadcaster TF1 and France 2 of the state-run France Televisions group at first asked for fees ranging up to 61,000 euros ($83,000) for access to certain D-Day events, according to charge sheets seen by Reuters.
After early protests, President Francois Hollande's office intervened on Friday to say the main ceremony would be available to foreign stations for free. Separately, the U.S. government assured agencies access on a par with the French pool for a ceremony at the U.S. cemetery in the town of Colleville-sur-Mer.
ENEX and the news agencies Reuters, AP and AFP issued a jointly agreed advisory to clients on Monday welcoming the move by Hollande's office but warning that many broadcasters still risked heavy costs. Such expenses include arranging satellite feeds to retrieve the signal, which can run to several hundred dollars an hour.
"The best way of achieving global distribution of this major event is to allow the agencies to distribute it free of charge," Reuters Chief Executive Andrew Rashbass wrote in a letter to Hollande's office dated June 2, urging officials to "urgently bring an end to the confusion".
"To attempt to charge a fee more suited to a sports event is unheard of, and a very disturbing development," he added.
Contacted for a comment on Monday, a French presidency official referred questions to the pool operators.
Guy Lezec, news coordinator for France Televisions, rejected complaints, saying host broadcasters incurred heavy expenses in handling such an event but that arrangements for retrieving the signal were now "extremely simple".
"We are making the signal available for free to all foreign stations but we are not making (it) available to agencies as they are resellers," Lezec said by telephone.
"This is the way the Elysee (presidential office) wanted it ... it's free - apart from the cost of coming to get it in France," he said, adding that the same arrangements applied to the TV stations' increasingly important website platforms. ($1 = 0.7349 Euros)
(Reporting by Mark John and Elizabeth Pineau; writing by Mark John; Editing by Kevin Liffey)