Friday, May 17, 2013

To ban or not to ban, that is the question

When it was reported - primarily in the Torygraph, by their North-East football correspondent and former Journal hack Luke Edwards - that the Newcastle dressing room was split asunder, with relations between a French clique and other players having broken down, the story had the ring of truth about it. After all, that all was not well was readily suggested by the on-pitch evidence. But was it actually just a convenient narrative for the media to spin out, believable but with little or no basis in reality?

The club's response to the story was firm - first a refutation of the reports, delivered by Papiss Cisse and Mr T, and then a letter threatening the Torygraph with legal action and a St James' Park ban for its journalists, including Edwards.

The strength of this response doesn't necessarily indicate that the rumours were false, of course; what it does show is that the club acknowledged the gravity of the situation and that something needed to be done to refute the allegations immediately and unequivocally. Toiling away as we were towards the foot of the table, with confidence shot and relegation a distinct possibility, such a story could only inflict further damage if it was allowed to fester. It seemed like we were being kicked while we were down. Even in his interview after the QPR game, when he should have been expressing relief (if not delight), the Silver Fox couldn't resist taking a swipe at journalists who he claimed would be "crying into their beer" at the club's survival.

All of which makes this blog post on the subject by Channel 4 news anchor and self-professed Newcastle fan Alex Thomson an interesting read. He overstates the point - self-consciously, you'd hope - in comparing clubs that ban or gag journalists to despotic and authoritarian political regimes, and talks about such clubs doing so "with impunity". What he doesn't acknowledge is that it currently cuts both ways - hacks often act with apparent impunity too. If the club genuinely felt that Edwards was trotting out scurrilous rumour with no basis in fact, would they not be justified in taking decisive action, particularly given the sensitivity of the context and the timing of the story's publication? Would it really be petulant, childish behaviour to react as they did in those circumstances? I'd venture not.

But - and it's a big but - it's worth making clear that to take this view would be to cast doubt on the integrity of a journalist who has been in and around the club for years and who has insisted everything was properly sourced. While the story may have been damaging to the club, particularly given its predicament at the time, Edwards can't be accused of professional irresponsibility as a result, if it was indeed true. On the contrary, it's his job to report on goings-on, even if the club would prefer that those goings-on were kept in-house rather than splashed all over the back pages.

So where does that leave me? In the somewhat uncomfortable position of wanting to side with the club's stance in the hope (rather than the cast-iron knowledge) that the reports were nonsense, while at the same time fearing that there may have been some truth to them - in which case I can agree with Thomson that the ban is at best petty and at worst cynical.

The Mirror's Simon Bird has suggested that the Silver Fox's attacks on the local media have been motivated primarily by a desire to deflect negative attention away from the players and himself - probably the case whether the rumours of dressing room splits are true or not - and has accused him of ingratitude, for forgetting the way in which his achievements last season were lauded. Bird, of course, knows a thing or two about falling foul of a Newcastle manager's ire himself, having turned up to a press conference and had one call him a "cunt"...

Labels: ,



Anonymous Lanterne Rouge said...

I am pro free speech but in private settings, am also pro the right of an organisation to withhold a press pass where they want - hence, just as the club would be unlikely to allow the proprietors of this blog into St. James' Park for free, why shouldn't they also be allowed to not allow the Telegraph in, especially if false rumours have been peddled. Plus it's the Telegraph - establishment mouthpiece that it is.

Enzo Bearzot famously banned the whole Italin press for the duration of the 1982 World Cup and ended up winning the thing.

There probably is a split but this is only natural given the newecomers won't be fully up to speed with their English yet - it doesn't mean players will be at eachother's throats.

3:34 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Good point about it being a private setting - just like a nightclub, football clubs do have the right to refuse access/entry.

One comparison I've read that's wide of the mark is that our actions are like a band banning a music journalist from their gigs for a negative review. That would be petty on the band's part, but is completely different from Newcastle's situation - fair comment/opinion rather than propagation of (what the club claims is) a lie.

11:56 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home