Media bans

When you buy an important social institution like a football club, that has been around for well over a century, and run it for entirely your own benefit as Mike Ashley has done at Newcastle United, there is bound to be criticism from fans and the media every now and then. Seeing as Ashley is a strong believer in Public Relations in order to keep the masses from outright revolt, Ashley keeps the press on a very tight leash. Cross him, even if proven right, and you’re banned. Below is an overview of some of the most unsavoury press dealings and media bans issued by Newcastle United under Mike Ashley.

Firstly, the People Sport reporter – Dave Kidd, was banned in March 2009 for a story about Joe Kinnear’s health, claiming a setback had occurred in his recovery from a triple heart bypass surgery. This was later proven to be 100% factually correct. Secondly, in the same month, Chronicle reporter – Alan Oliver, was also banned for a story about Kinnear’s health (March 2009):
“Newcastle’s own goal
“Newcastle, a club in turmoil on and off the pitch, have surpassed themselves by banning journalist Alan Oliver from St James’ Park just days after he received a lifetime achievement award for the dignified way he devoted a career to covering the team for the Newcastle Evening Chronicle for more than 30 years.
“The highly respected Oliver, now a pensioner working for a Sunday newspaper, was the co-author of a story speculating on sidelined manager Joe Kinnear’s health — a fair subject on Tyneside — which upset the board.
“Their ridiculous over-the-top reaction against a newspaperman who has written more positive paragraphs about the football club than anyone says everything about the buffoons running Newcastle.”
Source: Daily Mail

Then, the Sunday Sun were banned for publishing a story about Ashley and Llambias partying in Vegas (20 January 2010):
“Following an article that appeared as a back page lead in the Sunday Sun on 10 January 2010, healined ‘Desert-ers Leave Toon’, Newcastle United, having taken exception to the accuracy, tone, inference and content of the article, contacted the Sunday Sun to seek a full page retraction of the said article in the following Sunday’s paper (17 January).
“The retraction was not forthcoming in the manner requested and as such the Club have banned the Sunday Sun, indefinitely, from St. James’ Park and the Training Ground.”

Next, in early May 2013, a classic piece of power-play was conducted against The Telegraph’s Luke Edwards. With the club demanding an apology and retraction of the report of a split in dressing room – a story later confirmed to be correct by former Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper. The Telegraph refused to surrender and were subsequently banned (1 May 2013):
“We regret the club’s decision to ban the Telegraph from attending matches and press conferences, but will not allow it to prevent us providing the most incisive, trustworthy Newcastle coverage, rather than pandering to what the club want you to read.”
Source: World Soccer Talk

As a one city football club, you would expect the club to at least value their relationship with the local media, who act as an important mouthpiece to the club’s fans. However, in October 2013 the three local newspapers The Chronicle, The Journal and The Sunday Sun were banned for their reporting of a Time4Change anti-Ashley march. The club’s “head of media” Wendy Taylor sent them the following letter (28 October 2013):
“Dear Darren,
“I write in reference to the coverage in The Chronicle, The Journal and Sunday Sun regarding the protest march on Saturday 19 October by a small number of Newcastle United fans operating under the campaign name Time4Change.
“(…) We feel strongly that the turnout at the march renders your extraordinary coverage completely disproportionate. Furthermore it is evident from the scale and prominence you devoted to it that your agenda was the pursuit of sales based on an anti-Newcastle United stance, rather than a fair and balanced approach.
“(…) Having given due consideration to the above and your response to my email of Monday 21 October, the club’s owner, director of football, board of directors and team manager have reached a unanimous decision that the three NCJ Media titles, The Chronicle, The Journal and Sunday Sun, will not be permitted access to any media facilities, press conferences and player interviews at Newcastle United indefinitely and with immediate effect.
“We do not require a reply to this letter, our position on this issue is not up for negotiation.
“Yours sincerely,
“Wendy Taylor
“Head of Media, Newcastle United”
Source: The Chronicle

It was at this point in time that the club came up with a cunning plan: Rather than let journalists go about their job of independently reporting events as they occur, it would be much more convenient to control what they write, and let them pay for the privilege. And so they invited media outlets to become their ‘preferred media partner’ with gold, silver and bronze packages giving different levels of access (12 December 2013). Seriously, North Korea has nothing on Mike Ashley.

It quickly became apparent that the Sunday Express were not going to be a preferred media partner, after they received a ban for suggesting that in-trouble manager Alan Pardew was one game from the sack (18 February 2014):
“The Club feels it necessary to respond to the article published in the Sunday Express newspaper, headlined ‘Pardew’s One Game From Sack – Beat Villa or it’s the Bullet’, and claimed as an ‘exclusive’ by the paper. The article was written by John Richardson.
“We consider it extremely poor practice for a newspaper to print such an article without first seeking comment or clarification from the Club. The article was completely untrue and we can only assume published for commercial reasons or as an attempt to unsettle and disrupt.
“(…) Journalists and newspapers which print such wholly inaccurate stories should be aware that there will be consequences for their actions.
“Newcastle United will not accept false, misleading, mischievous or inflammatory reporting such as this and will take appropriate action as and when necessary. To this end, Newcastle United can confirm that the Sunday Express is banned with immediate effect. This ban does not extend to the paper’s sister publications, including the Daily Star, who made contact with the Club to check the validity of the story and accordingly did not publish it.”

In July 2014 there were strong rumours amongst the journalist community that The Sun had agreed a deal to become Newcastle United’s official preferred media partner. It came as little surprise then that one of their first articles was very, very complimentary of Mike Ashley:

Finally, a few months later it was back to business as usual for the club’s media department, as the Daily Telegraph was banned for publishing a story inferring that Mike Ashley was ready to sell Newcastle United as he eyed a Rangers takeover (12 September 2014):
“Newcastle United has today banned the Daily Telegraph with immediate effect following a report published in its paper yesterday (Thursday, 11th September), headlined ‘Newcastle United For Sale As Ashley Eyes Rangers’, as well as a follow-up article from the same reporter which appears in the Daily Telegraph today (Friday, 12th September).
“The reports by Luke Edwards on 11th September, and again today (12th September), are wholly inaccurate and written with the intention of unsettling the Club, players and its supporters.
“This is disgraceful journalism for which the Club and its supporters should receive a full and unreserved apology from those concerned.
“The truth is Mike Ashley remains committed to Newcastle United.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this means that for the remainder of this season and AT LEAST until the end of next season, Mike Ashley will not, under any circumstances, sell Newcastle United at any price.
“The Club cannot be stronger in stating its position on this matter.
“It is not acceptable for newspapers to print factually inaccurate reports that are damaging to the Club and to fail to check facts with Newcastle United ahead of publication and then expect to receive access to the Club.
“Newcastle United will not tolerate this and will take such action as it deems appropriate.
“The ban extends to all reporters working for, or freelancing on behalf of, the Daily Telegraph, as well as Luke Edwards in any capacity he may have working for the paper’s sister title or on a freelance basis.”

In a surprise move, the club lifted all existing media bans except for the Daily Telegraph in December 2014. It remains to be seen whether the club will now embrace a professional relationship with the wider press. However, we expect that the media have now heeded the message that there is a fine line not to be crossed in the so-called independent reporting of the goings on at Newcastle United. As we learned after Alan Pardew’s departure as manager, it was him who had requested numerous times for the bans to be lifted, because he felt that it turned the media against him (9 January 2015):
“I do think that was a problem to manage the football club – I made that point clear many, many times to the guys above me. In the end, (managing director) Lee Charnley has addressed that.”