Channel 4’s Alex Thompson has confirmed that he has been banned from Newcastle’s press conference head of the home game against Southampton after proposing to ask a question relating to the media being banned from football clubs. This has been a topic of much debate for some time now, so maybe it is time to open up the floor to a dedicated debate and poll on the issue to find out what the Toon Army really thinks instead of it being an ongoing sideline discussion.
The following is a quote from Mr Thompson; ”The current predicament of Channel 4 News says much about the bizarre ways of modern British football. We find ourselves banned today from a major football club because we wanted to ask about football clubs banning the media. The club? Why, Newcastle United of course – under Mike Ashley’s controversial control they have banned more journalists than any other club since 2007.Nowhere else in British public life is this kind of conduct tolerated.” For those that do not know, Alex Thompson is in fact a Newcastle United fan. Here is a follow up article he wrote on the subject. It is an emotive subject and I have read one poster state that people have died for the freedom to express their opinion (so the censorship should not be allowed), whilst I have also read comments suggesting the press have portrayed Newcastle United in a bad light for such a long time that the current stance is proportionate and understandable.
The Telegraph’s Luke Edwards was allegedly banned for reporting that all was not well in the Toon dressing room, whilst the club has apparently selected Sky Sports and The Mirror as its ‘preferred media partners’. When McClaren was unveiled it was only these two agencies that were invited to the party. The Sun newspaper responded with a piece headlined: ‘We wont dance to your Toon.’ They went on to state they they were the ONLY independent paper that could be trusted to hold the club to account.
Michael Martins of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust had this to say; ”They have had yet another opportunity to change, another opportunity to clean up the mess they have got into and they have failed to take it. This just seems unnecessarily antagonistic. To not have the local media there makes them look like a club that does not even know where their supporters are from. It looks like a club that has no idea what it is doing, it is clumsy, clunking and shows what a daft football club it is. We were told things were going to change, that there would be better communication and more transparency, but this suggests nothing has changed at all.”
It all looks pretty damning on the face of it – but delve a little deeper and you will find that Charnley and Co. are not the first or only football club bosses to take such a stance. Rangers and Celtic have been doing it for years. Sir Alex Ferguson famously refused to talk directly to the BBC, including Match of the Day, for years. The Sun seems to turn on the charm only when it suits itself. It takes the high ground in this particular scenario because it has not benefited from coverage of Newcastle United whilst their competitor have done. Only last year The Sun was accused by it’s rivals of having made a ‘preferred media partnership’ deal with NUFC when it was the only national paper to appear at the unveilings of Cabella, De Jong and Colback.Around about the same time The Sun presented the Country with this headline; ”Why we should love Mike Ashley.” It’s not like The Sun had not seen this coming. Only the year before they were selected as ‘preferred media partners’ for those unveilings, they were banned (together with NCJ Media outlets such as The Chronicle) for printing derogatory stories about the club.
Toon fans have long been accused by rival fans, newspapers and pundits of being fickle. If the above example of The Sun’s ‘changing Toon’ does not reflect the irony of such media allegations leveled towards us fans then I do not know what does?
Newcastle United has a fanatical fan base that lives, sleeps and eats football. That is why there is so much media interest in all things Toon. For a long time, the club has been described as a ‘Goldfish Bowl’ – most notably by Jermaine Jenas when he left for Spurs. Everything that gets reported about the club gets magnified and scrutinised not just by our own fans, but by most other fans too. If you look at a lot of comments on blogs from rival clubs, the fans quite often express their lack of empathy for us in recent years. The ‘fickle’ tag has stuck. Does this harm the club’s reputation abroad – where a very big market is there for the taking and with it an opportunity for the club’s brand to expand? If we ever want to compete at the top of the league again then we have to break into that market.
Newcastle United is high profile, so we get all the attention. But ours in not the only football club in England that has taken this stance in recent times. Swindon Town, Rotherham United, Blackpool, Southampton and Port Vale are all ‘guilty’ of the same policy from time to time. Yet I do not see them getting a massive slating from The Sun? Lee Charnley explained at the recent Fans Forum the current media approach was to; ”control and reinforce the positive messages the club wished to deliver.” Some see this as akin to a dictatorship, some see it as the club genuinely attempting to turn the image of the club around after years of ‘bad’ press. I suspect it’s not been brought about because the Big Bosses have have their feelings hurt by some articles in recent years, but because they have recognised that something has to change if they are ever going to break into the wider market.
The question is, are they going about it the right way?