Racing Media Push Back After CHRB Staff Demands They Be Licensed

The California Horse Racing Board announced a new policy on Aug. 8 which would require members of the media to obtain and pay for licensure through the state regulatory body in order to access the stable area at California tracks. The new policy, which was not voted upon by the commission but was instead a staff decision, would make California the only state requiring members of the press to hold licenses issued by the state regulatory body they may be covering.

Typically, working members of the media apply to racetracks for credentials to access the backstretch and to the media working space at the facility. The media member’s employer may be asked to verify that the reporter is working on assignment and requires the access requested, but credentialing is usually a private property access decision. For some undefined number of the racing press, that could still be the process, according to the CHRB’s announcement.

“This practice will continue for those who infrequently need access to stable areas. But those with a more regular presence in stable areas will need to acquire a CHRB “Z” (Other) license from one of the CHRB licensing offices,” read the announcement. “The fee for a Z license is $75, and depending on the applicant’s birth date, the license is good for two to three years. All applicants must be fingerprinted and are checked for California and nationwide criminal history. Individuals have until August 31 to come into compliance.”

Nowhere did the announcement define “infrequent” or “regular” access, leaving out-of-state reporters who cover select meets or major events in California confused about what their requirements would be.

Many in the racing press fear that if California’s policy stands, it will become standard across all racing states, leading to restricted access and ballooning expenses for the few outlets that still cover horse racing.

Although most individuals licensed by a state racing commission are also required to register with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said Aug. 9 that she did not anticipate this being a requirement for media.

“I do not believe we would require media to register as being licensed by a state racing commission is only one element of the test,” said Lazarus via email. “The second is whether or not the person interacts directly with horses.”

When asked what drove the change in policy, CHRB spokesman Mike Marten indicated it stemmed from confusion around a former exercise worker who went to work for XBTV, which is owned by The Stronach Group.

“A former exercise rider who now works for a racing network tried to get her license renewed but someone pointed out that she was not eligible for the license because she has not exercised horses in years,” said Marten via email. “This prompted licensing personnel to ask under which category she should be licensed. I believe she wound up being licensed as a track employee because of her association with the track-owned racing network XBTV. But her employer was curious about the term Media License that had been mentioned during the discussion. Of course, there is no category Media License, but as it was mentioned, her employer later asked the CHRB for clarification. The matter reached Executive Director Scott Chaney and Chief of Enforcement and Licensing Shawn Loehr. They recognized that CHRB Rule 1481 was not being enforced in regards to news media.”

CHRB rule 1481 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.” However, Section 4 of the 2022 California Code of Regulations, which lists the costs of licenses for various positions on the backstretch (trainer, assistant, exercise rider, etc.) does not make any mention of a media license.

Predictably, reporters who could be impacted by the policy change immediately registered displeasure at the announcement. Both the National Association of Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB) and the Associated Press Sports Editors sent letters to CHRB executive director Scott Chaney decrying the policy. Those letters are printed in full below. (Editor’s note: The author is a board member of NTWAB.)

Letter from NTWAB: 

Mr. Scott Chaney,

The National Turf Writers And Broadcasters vehemently opposes the Aug. 8, 2022 decision by the California Horse Racing Board to “require all individuals who enter the stable areas, including members of the news media, to obtain a CHRB license.”

Professional members of the news media do not fall under the California Code of Regulations 2022 Rules and Regulations Title 4, Division 4, Article 4 (Occupational Licenses), Rule 1481. Members of the news media are acting independently and not in the involvement of operation of a racetrack and/or care of racehorses.

Members of the news media, for decades, have been granted access to racetracks across the country through publicity departments and the Turf Publicists of America to conduct business without a license and/or required to pay a fee to do their jobs. 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. If media members needed to be licensed, the same logic could be twisted to say the CHRB then could discipline media members as well.

The NTWAB Board of Directors and its members strongly encourage the CHRB to reverse this decision and allow the news media to continue to operate independently and after the approval of racetrack management.

Sincerely,

Tom Law

President, National Turfwriters and Broadcasters

Letter from the Associated Press Sports Editors:

Dear Mr. Chaney,
First let us introduce ourselves, we represent the Associated Press Sports Editors. Jorge is the president. Gerry and John, who you know well, are co-chairs of the Legal Affairs Committee. APSE is a nationwide group that represents almost every print and online media organization in the country and some broadcast outlets such as ESPN. We are considered the major voice for sports media in the U.S.
It has come to our attention that the California Horse Racing Board just issued a directive that media wishing to regularly cover the backstretch at your tracks in California, to include Santa Anita, Del Mar, Los Alamitos and Golden Gate Fields, must obtain a license from the CHRB, which includes finger printing and a background check.
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. 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. If it is a fact that too many media credentials are issued by the tracks, that is an issue between you and the tracks without punishing legitimate media. If there have been problems with legitimate media, please share. We care more than you would believe.
No league or sporting group has ever gone to the extreme of requiring finger printing.
We know you might say that there is an option for the local tracks to offer one-day passes. So, what happens, as it often does, if you are talking to a trainer at Clockers’ Corner and you follow them back to their barn, only to be stopped by security because Mike Willman hasn’t said it is OK because he didn’t know about the impromptu interview?
Under this rule we can’t interview George Papaprodromou, a true feel-good story worth telling,  at his barn about his Del Mar meeting without someone’s permission?
And then there is the issue of the Breeders’ Cup. Santa Anita hosts next year and under your rules it creates media chaos of those wanting to interview on the backstretch. John has contacted Jim Gluckson of the Breeders’ Cup about this. He said he is investigating. Could this impact future Breeders’ Cups in California?
It’s a very odd stance when horse racing is a sport that desires more coverage but this rule only discourages it. The CHRB has been a leader in horse racing safety and making it a better sport. That’s what makes this stance so puzzling.
We’re sure this rule was well intended but sometimes even the most thoughtful plans have unintended consequences. We believe, and sincerely hope, this is the case.
So, we respectfully ask that this directive be rescinded. It has not yet become a national issue of regulatory overreach and that’s the way we would prefer it. Our preference is always to get in front of an issue before it blows up allowing for a graceful and quiet solution by everyone.
Please consider our request. We are always available to talk about this.
Best regards,
Jorge Rojas
President, APSE
Gerry Ahern
APSE legal affairs committee co-chair
John Cherwa
APSE legal affairs committee co-chair

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