Will Watt, the football reporter for the Blackpool Gazette, has urged the Football Association to place a ban on bans.
Last month, The Gazette’s Steve Simpson was told that he could not attend a press conference to announce the appointment of Blackpool’s new manager, Neil McDonald. The Gazette has been told that its ban will be lifted by the club when the new season starts next month.
But with bans on local papers increasingly being used as the option of first resort by football clubs at the merest suggestion of an offence, there is a growing clamour that Something Must Be Done.
Watt wants the game’s governing body to step in to control its clubs.
No reason has been offered by Blackpool for the exclusion of The Gazette, but the paper has naturally been reporting the on-going battle between Seasiders supporters and the club’s controversial owners, the Oyston family.
Last Saturday supporters caused the abandonment of a friendly match at Lancaster City where they invaded the pitch. The Gazette happened to mention it. There was nothing about the incident on the club’s website.
Writing in the Gazette, Watt said: “Events at Lancaster on Saturday were at least good news for journalists – they highlighted what life would be like without us.
“This summer we have experienced the restricted world of controlled reporting at Blackpool FC. As you’re probably aware, The Gazette aren’t presently allowed to speak to anyone at Bloomfield Road, though no explanation has been provided by the club. Only ‘local media partners’ are being given access to players and the manager until the season starts.
“I’d like to think most supporters reading our recent coverage wouldn’t have been aware of the lack of access, except perhaps for the rare use of some pretty bland interviews with new signings from the club’s official website …
“I’m not having a dig at Pool’s media department, who are simply following instructions, their hands are as tied as anyone and social media criticism their way has been a little unfair.
“In truth official club sites like to act like credible sources of journalism, offering ‘exclusives’ and ‘breaking news’, but they can only provide club-sanctioned PR and highly selective reporting. For balanced, objective coverage, that’s where the media comes in … ”
“Maybe the FA should follow the lead of the NFL in America, which outlaws the practice of clubs banning the media,” Watt wrote.
In the FA Premier League, clubs are required to provide specified media facilities, as well as putting up managers, coaches and players for interviews by the press and broadcasters on set occasions – pre-match and post-match.
But while the football authorities have proved to be determined in applying their rules to license sports journalists, they tend not to enforce their own rules with the clubs: Sir Alex Ferguson was allowed to boycott giving interviews to certain broadcasters for a decade when managing Manchester United, without even the threat of sanction by the Premier League.
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