When is it ok to ban a journalist?

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.

As Hold The Front Page reports,

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?

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  • Football clubs are a wee bit different to political parties – for starters, where there’s a rights contract involved (i.e. with TV or radio) then there’s usually a requirement on the club to make someone available for interview post-match. With the press, though, it’s standard practice that clubs have a “favoured” journalist to give stories to – these are usually hidden, but an obvious one is Rangers passing stories to BBC Scotland’s Chick Young.

    Ultimately, though, every individual or organisation has the freedom to choose who they want and don’t want to talk to, and it’s up to them how they want to do it. Putting it from a political viewpoint, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t ban from conference journalists who are perpetually dismissive of the Lib Dems (the obvious ones being the Dail Mail and the Sun) – but that would mean we’d probably get even less coverage and miss an opportunity to connect with another section of the public.

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