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11th November 2013

Comment: Club owners vs. Journalists.

Andrew Georgeson explains how the future of sports journalism is under threat from tyrannical owners and managers

Journalist, noun perpetual annoyance, scandal maker, master of the hyperbole.

Well, that’s not quite what the Oxford English Dictionary says, but it may as well. Opinion divides, and it can alienate, annoy and anger people. But it makes people engage in conversation, which is vital in a democratic society.

Unfortunately, football owners have increasingly turned their clubs into communist dictatorships. The two examples in the news at the moment are Port Vale and Newcastle United banning the local newspapers due to supposedly slanderous material. However, there are other examples from the past like Sir Alex who was notorious for banning journalists from Old Trafford like Stalin picking off his competitors.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Mark Ogden of The Telegraph who ably played the role of Trotsky several times, and ended up getting the metaphorical axe to the face for his troubles. But surely in a democratic society, with supposedly free press, the idea of banning journalists from football stadiums is unjust?

The story which broke the Camel’s, or perhaps Hippos’ (if we are referring to Newcastle’s hierarchy of Mike Ashley and Joe Kinnear) back was Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle’s coverage of a Newcastle United protest named #time4change – a peaceful march ordained by council and police alike that went through Newcastle’s city centre before the Liverpool match a few weeks ago. Newcastle United argued that the amount of pages the Chronicle gave the march was excessive, comprising: the front page of the paper, an inside spread and four pages in the sports section. They argued this was disproportionate to the significance of the actual event.

This does seem extreme, however, when I flicked through a copy of the Evening Chronicle I counted 12 pages out of 60 dedicated to Newcastle, and this is after the media ban. On the other hand, if Newcastle didn’t cover the march, they would be doing a huge disservice to the fans that buy the paper. It is the definition of a ‘lose-lose’ situation.

Newcastle can turn their own official match-day programme into £3 issues laden with propaganda which defends their players with religious fervor. But surely it is the Medias’ job to relay the truth to the public and give them insight that they would otherwise be unable to receive? Journalism as a whole is in a precarious place. There is a fine line between creating press regulations and total censorship, and it will be a line which the government will need to tread very lightly.

Yes, Rebekah Brooks needs to be punished for residing over a phone hacking scandal, but surely writing something that upsets an owner of a sub-standard football club should not be any reason to ban journalists from stadiums?

The question is, who can, or perhaps who will, stand up for the journalists of today?

Who will stick up for that rare breed of person who thrives off scandal, and makes football managers’ lives a living hell?

Other members of the national press rallied around Newcastle United in a press conference the other day upon hearing that NCJ Media, the branch of North-East media were to be banned from Newcastle matches. Questions were refused and other members of the press asked them in their place. The conference resembled the last scene from ‘Sparticus’ in which everyone claimed that they were the eponymous hero. In short, it was a complete shambles.

My request to the FA is the following: stand up to tyrannical ownerships and to small time mediocre sports brand owners and give the power back to the press. This is not for the sake of the newspapers, but for the sake of the fans.

In a time of economic struggle, many fans can’t afford to go the matches or afford ever-increasing Sky Sport packages. They will turn to the papers to get the inside-scoop. In the 150-year anniversary of the FA, in times when they claim to be returning to the roots of their football heritage, how can they simply stand by when football is being destroyed from the top down?

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