Eighty journalists have accused a rugby club of “unjustifiable interference with the freedom of the press” after news reporters were barred from attending its press conferences.
Members of the Belfast & District and Derry & North West branches of the National Union of Journalists have hit out at Ulster Rugby over the ban following the sacking of players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were acquitted of rape following a high-profile trial last month.
Ulster said the conduct of news journalists at the first press conference after the acquittal “negatively impacted” the event, but the NUJ’s Belfast branch has now requested an urgent meeting with Shane Logan, the club’s chief executive officer, over the matter.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, the NUJ’s letter said the “attempt to stifle media coverage of the context and consequences of the recent trial is an unjustifiable interference with the freedom of the press, and with the rights of everyone to freedom of information and expression”.
It added: “The sports journalists among our membership fully understand the wider public interest in this matter.
“We reject and condemn the attempt by Ulster Rugby to divide us by restricting access to rugby correspondents, while denying other bona fide journalists the right to ask questions and inform their readerships and audiences.
“A free and open media is the cornerstone of democracy in which openness and transparency of information is crucial.”
A previous Ulster Rugby statement said the decision to restrict the media event to sports journalists was made “following consultation with regular press conference attendees”.
However the rugby reporters insisted they had not requested any ban, merely asked for a more structured format to ensure rugby matters were covered.
An Ulster Rugby spokesman said the club will respond directly to the NUJ on the matter.