Portsmouth FC have banned a local newspaper journalist from their ground after taking dislike to a piece that he wrote. Although the club has neither suggested the article broke any law nor is libellous, it has decided to ban Neil Allen for an “indefinite period” from home matches, press conferences, speaking to the players and coaching staff or visiting the club’s training ground.
News sports editor Howard Frost told HTFP: “It seems a bit petty. If (manager) Paul Hart wants to take exception, that’s his prerogative.
“It’s generally normal for managers and journalists to fall out but Pompey could have just said ‘Paul doesn’t want to speak to you’ and left it at that.
“Neil is disappointed. He can accept Paul Hart’s stance but we fail to see why Pompey have to ban him completely over an opinion piece – an opinion many fans shared after that match.”
Banning and cold-shouldering football journalists is a deeply ingrained part of the attitude of many football clubs. It raises the interesting question of where you draw the line when it comes to journalistic freedom. Almost everyone would be outraged if the Speaker banned a journalist from Parliament for writing a piece he didn’t like. On the other hand, almost everyone would feel it’s their own personal right not to let a journalist into their own home.
Where football clubs fall on that spectrum is often a matter for debate: they’re not public institutions, but they have a role in their communities and the sport has a role in the country that is different from most straight-forwardly commercial enterprises. It’s an issue that comes up with television rights too – should clubs be able to sell the rights to whoever they like or should some events be protected for free-to-air broadcast coverage?
In this case, is Portsmouth FC just a business that should be able to ban a journalist as it likes?