Published on 4 Aug 2015

How can it be normal to ban journalists from the football?

So we return to the unhappy state of affairs across English and Scottish football, where some clubs feel it is perfectly normal to ban any journalist guilty of perpetrating journalism the club disapproves of.

I suppose Alex Ferguson was one of the most prominent people in football back in the day to think this was acceptable. He banned the BBC for seven years. It has gone on from there. He was not the first and certainly not the last, as this obnoxious practice appears to be getting ever more widespread, from giant clubs to the minnows north and south of the border.

Can you imagine this happening at a major company holding a press conference? Still less a political party? In fact, can you imagine this happening in any other walk of life in what we choose to call democratic and free Britain?

Of course not – because it is pretty much unheard of.

Yet in the weird world of football it continues to happen.

Chief among the culprits: Newcastle United. One recent example being the banning of the Telegraph’s north east football reporter Luke Edwards. His “crime”? Reporting dressing room unhappiness at St James’ Park.

Newcastle United said that it had implemented the ban because Mr Edwards’s journalism has been “wholly inaccurate and written with the intention of unsettling the club, players and its supporters”.

I know, I know, leaving aside the astonishment that this could be news – the point is the Ashley empire came down upon Mr Edwards with great vehemence and force, and he was banned from the club.

And he is far from alone, either in Newcastle or across the country.

Newcastle United v Liverpool - Barclays Premier League

In football reporting circles, though, they now seem to have pretty much accepted this in some cities as a way of life, or perhaps a badge of honour in some way. Fair enough, for what else as individuals can they do?

The football governing bodies appear clueless on this issue. The FA kept telling me to ask the Premier League or the clubs, or frankly anybody but them. Eventually they did agree that if a ban happened during the FA Cup they would intervene and ask the club what was going on. But that was about as far as things got.

Crawley Town, Port Vale, Rotherham United and Nottingham Forest have all limited the actions of individual journalists. In Scotland both Celtic and Rangers have banned reporters for for reporting for years – of which more later.

The Football League looks after 72 clubs and says there are relatively few problem areas.

Others would differ. Swindon Town have gone radical all right, banning the entire media except those outlets with whom they have a commercial relationship, from their so-called “press conferences”. The Guardian recently reported that the club’s owner, Lee Power, will hold interviews with Swindon’s own “in-house journalist” for website and smartphone app distribution. For in-house journalist, read press officer.

Newcastle United, too, use club content on their own website, and many clubs are rapidly coming to see themselves as in-house media providers and players, which is fine. But it isn’t journalism, it’s PR. They are selling the club, not the story or the issues. The clear danger in all this is that many clubs are coming to see outside media merely as commercial rivals. Here they are making a very big mistake.

I would suggest that view either completely misunderstands, or willfully misrepresents, the role of the media to scrutinise accurately but without fear or favour all aspects of our society – and that includes, yes, even football.

You would like to think external media organisations would fight back. Oh, to see rows of empty seats at Newcastle, Rotherham, Swindon, Celtic, Rangers and many more in return for these acts of blatant censorship, as the media ban the offending club until they wise up. Alas, it does not seem to be happening.

Certainly in Newcastle, the un-banned have long helped out the banned, to the extent that in some quarters they wonder what the point is of being actually present at St James’ Park. As yet nothing is organised, but there are certainly stirrings and conversations being had along the Tyne that this idiocy cannot continue in the way it has thus far done.

But would the giants like Sky or BT play the game if the media decided that time has come to ban the clubs?

The football governing bodies seem to take a stand flat on their collective backs over the cynical and growing malaise.

The media do not help themselves by adopting a dog-eat-dog attitude, with every organisation out for itself and little overt sign of any solidarity.

Some individual organisations are fighting back to a degree, though, and that is commendable. The BBC was banned by Ferguson from Old Trafford for seven years and now it seems to have had enough. Rangers recently banned BBC reporter Chris McLaughlin.

In response, the Beeb in Glasgow says it will send no staff to Rangers matches. Nor should any Scottish media do so until this nonsense stops – nor to any other Scottish club that thinks they can pull this stunt.

Then, perhaps, the English would catch on and stand up to the censors and the bullies.

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14 reader comments

  1. Alan says:

    Although not condoning censorship, mainstream editorials routinely censor by omission. Few articles allow the reader to decide. Political parties in the UK do ban independant journalists. Corporate conferences ban independant journalists. We have reached the point where if you disagree you will be labelled an agitator or worse still, a conspiracy theorist. The question is, what does this article omit to tell it’s readers?

  2. Miccor says:

    I don’t often disagree with you Alex but I do here to an extent. Journalists should not be banned for having an opinion but they should be in trouble for printing stories that cannot be backed up by fact. All journalism should be responsible. Citing unnamed sources doesn’t cut it with me, especially if the story has the potential to agitate fans and the dressing room. Disenchanted fans can easily affect performances on the pitch and matchday revenue so if stories are deemed to be patently untrue then action needs to be taken. Alex Ferguson was a man child who benefitted from the open hostility to his main adversary, Arsene Wenger and should have been treated with a lot less tolerance by the other mainstream media

  3. Andrew Dundas says:

    Football clubs may not want the sort of publicity that some journalists give them. That publicity often upsets relationships within their team. Aren’t we all entitled to an undisturbed life if we want it?

  4. Fabrice says:

    I agree to a certain extent, in that clubs are treating certain journalists harshly when it comes to reporting on them and what goes on, however, as a blogger and a follower of football for a very long time, you can’t blame some clubs for reacting like so, after what a lot of journalists have done.

    I do think that it’s absolute nonsense in banning a reporter if they’re simply trying to portray the truth to the supporters but unfortunately in these over sexed and over hyped Premier League days, stories of trouble and strife make the headlines and there are a lot of “journalists” who will do anything to get a story.

    As I said, I think the banning of genuine journalists is wrong but I can see why some clubs will do that, as there is a group that’s ruined it for the rest. I’ve seen this at my local club where local journalists churned out some shocking nonsense which nearly crippled, not only the club but the people trying to manage it, and all because they didn’t like them, petty rubbish.

    Perhaps if more journalists focused on reporting on the actual story, rather than “a story”, then the clubs may have a different view.

  5. George McLean says:

    If football club believes and is of the opinion that specific journalists are only interested in reporting, or taking on second hand word of mouth, negative articles about a football club continuously without giving any positive reporting of that club then that club is well within it’s rights to withdraw press privileges to a journalist or journalists. If, as is the case with Tom English, a journalist deems it correct to refuse to enter the stadium of that club, then fine, the club can live with that, no problem there. What certain journalists should be aware of is the fact that football clubs do not need to accept negative journalism on a constant and regular basis without the clubs handing out bans to those journalists.

  6. joestrummer says:

    Rangers haven’t banned any journalists, Alex.

    They are more than welcome to visit Ibrox and pay from their own pockets for the privilege of telling lies about Rangers and their fans.

    Rangers are correct in removing Press Accreditation from those who seek to damage the club.

  7. Dave C 181 says:

    Have Rangers banned the journo named or just revoked his press.priveledges? It is of course the latter meaning that he is perfectly free to purchase a ticket and watch the game if he so chooses. This of course means no ban actually exists therefore your article is inaccurate.

    Also, taking on board your 2nd last para does that mean you won’t be attending Celtic Park any time soon?

  8. Iain Barnes says:

    So Alex, do you believe the media or journalists should be free to print anything and everything about clubs, yet still be welcomed with open arms?

  9. Douglas Meldrum says:

    Alex, Chris McLaughlin of the BBC was not banned from Ibrox. His press privileges were withdrawn and he will no longer enjoy the hospitality at Ibrox while he is shafting the club with his bigoted, unfair and unimpartial nonsense. He will not be turned away if he pays at the gate.

    Mr McLaughlin has been warned as to his behaviour on previous occasions, and therefore, this is a measured response by the club.

    I applaud the club’s stance on this, and hope that the BBC will note that the club will no longer tolerate the biased, agenda driven mis-reporting that has been characteristic of the Scottish media (and yourself) over the last four years.

    Rangers are not asking for preferential treatment or not to be criticised when it is deserved. The club only wants to be treated fairly and impartialy by the media and within the BBC editorial guidelines particularly.

    For the BBC to boycott Ibrox is, quite frankly ridiculous. This action will have no adverse effect on the club what so ever, but will disadvantage thousands of not just Rangers supporters, but the supporters of all the other clubs who are playing matches at Ibrox, and will receive no live information. The vast majority of these supporters are licence payers, who will now question the validity of paying for that licence.

  10. Worcester Hibby says:

    The real problem is the standard of sports journalism, certainly in Scotland and I suspect throughout the UK. Newspapers regularly run stories based on baseless rumours spread on club fans forums without bothering to check if the story has any basis in fact. The mainstream media in Scotland are obsessed by Rangers and Celtic and very rarely bother to report on anything unless it is connected to them or will benefit them. In fact you can be absolutely certain that the BBC wouldn’t be getting it’s knickers in a twist if it was St Mirren or Kilmarnock that has removed one of the journalists. They wouldn’t give a monkeys…

    let’s face it..journalism in Scotland is not merely a profession…it’s basically the oldest profession !

  11. Harriet Green says:

    Your comments section isn’t full of people agreeing with you is it?

    Could it be that you are being economical with the truth and seeking to protect your own?

    Fact is that Swindon Town have not introduced a total ban, indeed only this week Lee Power and the Manager Mark Cooper appeared on a local BBC radio phone in to answer questions from supporters live on air. During that programme they explained their stance and promised to do further regular phone ins (as they have done in the past).

    Little old Swindon Town have 3 media outlets all of a sudden after many years with only the one. We don’t need three and some of these outlets realise this and are trying to protect their own future..

  12. H Statton says:

    The Mirror reported that Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny was seen smoking a cigarette and subsequently fined £20K. Admittedly, I would rather read a good match report than this sort of pop journalism, but would censorship of this really be a good thing?
    http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/arsenal-keeper-wojciech-szczesny-caught-5825255

    If I was an Arsenal fan I wouldn’t be very pleased to read that our well paid keeper was caught having a quick drag (reported twice, January & June 2015). The fine alone is greater than a lot of people earn in a year.

    Arsenal Season Ticket prices for 2015/16 range from £1,014 – £2,013 (ouch):
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/11556668/Premier-League-season-ticket-prices-cut-or-frozen-for-2015-16.html

    Stop the press! Alan Shearer wished good luck to Blyth Spartans in a pep-talk when they played Hartlepool in an FA cup draw match:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2868905/Blyth-Spartans-heroics-against-Hartlepool-proves-magic-FA-Cup-not-dead.html

    The rumour mill, the non-stories, the woefully dull, and the worst kept secrets in football history. When there’s no ‘real’ journalism this is the sort of hogwash that fills the void.

    How many times have you read about Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford or Gareth Bale being prized away? And how many players have been associated with “the big four” in the past two weeks alone?

    This is the sort of report concerning peripheral issues I would prefer to read (apologies to Tangerine fans). Blackpool’s demise following relegation from the Premiership in 2011:
    http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/apr/02/blackpool-karl-owen-oyston-relegation-championship

    By far their best player Charlie Adam went to Liverpool following Blackpool’s relegation (currently at Stoke). In terms of players he was the clubs biggest asset. His leaving was the beginning of the end. Relegation from the premiership to starting a “season with only eight contracted players and no goalkeepers”; that is quite a fall by anyone’s standards.

    The website of a well-known broadsheet I read regularly has a front-page-topping banner listing numerous subjects (in order): UK, world, politics, sport, football… etc; things such as environment and technology don’t do as well. The very fact that football gets its own slot and does not come under ‘sport’ says it all. We are obsessed with the game.

    If reporting is wilfully inaccurate, enough to damage the reputation of a person(s) it is libellous. If what journos write is so widely defamatory why aren’t more clubs suing them?

    Just a broad definition:
    “Journalism can be distinguished from other activities and products by certain identifiable characteristics and practices. These elements not only separate journalism from other forms of communication, they are what make it indispensable to democratic societies. History reveals that the more democratic a society, the more news and information it tends to have.”
    American Press Institute, 2015

    Some supporters shout abuse with impunity, usually out of frustration, because the referee has made an outrageous decision, to incite the opposition’s fans, or simply just because they can; heat of the moment stuff.

    A journo writing tripe is not going to be a sought after reporter. And even an experienced, highly respected reporter can get things wrong occasionally; they’re only human after all.

    I believe the idea is something along the lines of carrying out a thorough, balanced analysis, and then the dissemination of the results of that analysis. If that makes up the meat of the article, there is nothing wrong with adding a personal opinion.

    However impartial we all like to think we are, we are all biased to some degree, but there is a world of difference between a genuine mistake, and purposefully printing ongoing incendiary comments.

    I have to say, the Newcastle shirt sponsor “Wonga” did not pass me by… Sometimes there is definitely more money than sense in football. :-)

    “All credit to the lads… “

  13. Russell McGhee says:

    Not surprising that you pen this article in the wake of actions at Ibrox. Your obsession with all things Rangers continues to grow.
    As others have pointed out McLaughlin and Spiers are free to attend any game at Ibrox and the only “ban” in operation is that by the BBC. As a nationally funded organisation is their ban even legal???

    As I said,you could’ve produced this article at anytime in the last 10years…why now?

    I think we know the answer to that one!!

  14. Harriet Green says:

    Seems like a lot of your readers do not agree with you judging by the comments section!

    Also your comments about Swindon Town are inaccurate as they have not ” banned the entire media ” as you claim. Indeed Lee Power and the Manager Mark Cooper appeared on the local BBC Radio station this week for an hour taking supporters questions. They have done so before and have promised to do so again.

    Perhaps your example of twisting the truth is justification of the Club’s standpoint..

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