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Regional journalists banned from two football grounds

Regional press journalists have been banned from two football grounds after the clubs objected to articles their titles published.

Journalists from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and its sister titles The Journal and The Sunday Sun have been barred by Newcastle United from press conferences and matches at St James’s Park.

Journalists from the titles were prevented from asking questions to NUFC manager Alan Pardew at a press conference at the weekend because the club believed the Chronicle’s coverage of a fan protest against owner Mike Ashley was too harsh.

And at Port Vale Football Club, a reporter from Stoke-based The Sentinel, Michael Baggaley, was refused access to the press box on Saturday, while the paper’s photographer Mark Scott was also turned away.

The Sentinel’s ban came after the regional daily ran a story about a delay in the arrival of limited edition third change shirts and the club has now asked the title to pay £10,000 a year for access to the press box and press conferences.

The Chronicle reported that at a post-match press conference at the Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, Pardew would not answer questions from Journal chief sports writer Mark Douglas or Chronicle chief sports writer Lee Ryder.

When they attempted to question the Newcastle United manager following the 2-1 defeat to Sunderland, the club’s head of communications Wendy Taylor intervened and said they could not ask questions.

Journalists from national media then asked why the questions from the local reporters would not be answered, but did not receive a response.

Chronicle editor Darren Thwaites said: “It’s always disappointing to fall out with a football club but our independence and integrity is much more important.

“We may be banned but we won’t be gagged. Our team want Newcastle United to be successful but it would be nonsense to pretend the fans are happy about what’s going on behind the scenes.” 

The ban came after the club wrote to the papers complaining about their coverage of a fan demonstration on 19 October against Mike Ashley.

It also follows the Chronicle’s refusal to bow to club pressure to call the ground the Sports Direct Arena, while the paper was also critical of the appointment of Joe Kinnear as director of football.

It comes after a previous ban by Newcastle United in May on former Journal reporter Luke Edwards, who moved to work for the Daily Telegraph, for a story about a dressing room split. 

The National Union of Journalists has hit out at the latest move by Newcastle United and has written a letter to Mr Ashley about it.

Chris Morley, NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser, said: “Our members have been caught in a dispute between Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley and their newspaper and do not deserve to be treated in the outrageous way they have.

“They were carrying out their professional duties in what was an important news story and event for the whole of the North East. Yet they were left humiliated by the football club officials who refused point blank to deal with their legitimate questions on behalf of their readers. Reporters from national titles were allowed to ask questions.

“This is a denial of freedom of the media and expression and an attempt by powerful people at the club to take retribution for coverage they did not like.”

At The Sentinel, a story about the ban said Port Vale reporter Michael had paid to sit in the stands with fans after being barred from the press box for an article about the shirt delay – but the paper has published no photos of the win against Gillingham after its photographer was not allowed entry.

An editorial about the ban said: “On Saturday morning we published what we consider to be a balanced and fair article which we hoped would answer fans’ concerns.

“However, as Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite had warned on Friday, as a result of his enquiries Mike is now banned from the press box and press conferences and our photographers won’t be allowed to take photographs at Vale Park.

“We make absolutely no apology for asking what Mr Smurthwaite perceives as negative questions. That, occasionally, is the job of a local newspaper and something the Vale chairman has been told many times by many different people.

“However, it seems the newspaper which helped to expose the wrong-doing of a previous board of directors (at a time when other media outlets weren’t interested) and fought hard – both publicly and behind the scenes – to help save then Vale when it was placed into administration, isn’t welcome anymore.”

It said editor Richard Bowyer had asked Mr Smurthwaite to reconsider the ban and the title would not pay the £10,000, which was demanded by the club for full press access because the local radio stations pay for live broadcasting rights.

Richard told HTFP: “We have never and would never intentionally set out to fall out with Port Vale. I personally worked tirelessly to find a resolution. However, in the end, Mr Smurthwaite would not be moved.

“He at first banned us for asking questions over why 1,000 fans hadn’t received commemorative shirts they had been promised. He then told me if we wanted to go back into the box we would have to pay for the privilege of access like Radio Stoke and Signal Radio and quoted a figure of £10,000. He then said we were banned for breaching his trust over a story we ran in May.

“Frankly, we are not sure why we are banned. Fans have been very supportive of us. It’s just unfortunate that we have reached this position, but we have some great ideas on how we will cover the games in the future if the ban continues.” 

Newcastle United and Port Vale football clubs had not responded to requests for a comment at the time of publication.

7 comments

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  • October 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm
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    NUJ should stand up against this and call on all papers (local and national) to stop covering these clubs too.
    Let’s see how quickly this changes if their sponsors suddenly received 0 coverage.

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  • October 28, 2013 at 5:18 pm
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    It’s time football clubs realised just how much they need the coverage from local papers.
    More power to the newspapers in Newcastle and The Sentinel

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  • October 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm
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    It’s extraordinary how many football clubs think local newspapers should act as tame cheer-leaders rather than objective observers. I would have thought Mr Smurthwaite’s little club, in particular, needed all the publicity it can get. And as for Newcastle – being banned by Mike Ashley is a badge of honour. Any newspaper upsetting him is obviously doing its job properly.

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  • October 29, 2013 at 10:12 am
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    The situation is not quite as black and white (sorry Newcastle, no pun intended) as some may believe.

    Local media publicity is certainly an important factor in the success of professional football clubs, but copies bought by football fans are important to a regional paper’s circulation.

    Bans of this kind have been going on for ever, or at least for as long as I can remember (and that’s quite a few years).

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  • October 30, 2013 at 11:26 am
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    How asinine are Pardew and Ashley? Can it be possible that they think their hubris makes them appear anything other than puerile? I didn’t think it possible that NCU could be sheparded in a more ridiculous fashion than some previous owners/managers… er, managed, but these two are almost in a league of their own.

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  • October 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm
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    Southend has been doing this for years in a bid to scare reporters off of stories about player misbehaviour.

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  • October 30, 2013 at 9:37 pm
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    Okay, football is a business. A business which generates newsworthy content for newspapers. Newspapers need to realise the value of that content to their brand, rather than go on about the injustice of it all. Newcastle United and Port Vale will both outlive the Chronicle and Sentinel, but the demise of those titles will only become more rapid without a good relationship with these clubs. Whatever the history, the MDs and editors need to work this out for the benefit of their staff. If I was a sports reporter, especially in a city with a Premiership side, and couldn’t report on my team because of a previous story, I’d leave. The top brass need to sort this out with the clubs for the good of their respective papers as there are enough online fans’ forums and other ways for sponsors to get their messages heard.

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