Thursday, 11 December 2008

Following up on brands and bans by contrasting Howell and Hallam.

Having not identified a stand-out issue raised in last week’s fascinating guest lecture from BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on a theme I have already discussed here.

Firstly, I have to mention last week’s blog about “Journalists being brands”, which referred to how the Birmingham Mail rallied behind their football writer Bill Howell after he was banned from Aston Villa by then-manager David O’Leary.

The blog post has been commented on by both Bill and his Birmingham Mail colleague Colin Tattum, and it is interesting to read their recollection of the O’Leary affair and their thoughts on how Bill was treated.

Writing an article about football reporters getting banned from the clubs they cover has turned out to be quite a topical subject.

In the time since I last blogged, it transpires that the Derby Evening Telegraph’s Neil Hallam, who is amongst their team of Derby County reporters, has found himself on the wrong side of a similar banning order from the club (on clicking the link you’ll need to scroll down a bit).

Derby Evening Telegraph football reporter Neil Hallam has been banned from covering Derby County games after writing numerous critical columns about the club's owners.

Apparently the reason for Hallam’s ban from reporting at Pride Park is a result of him writing a number of critical opinion pieces highlighting the mystery surrounding investment made in the club by County’s new owners, General Sports and Entertainment (GSE).

However, in stark contrast to how the Birmingham Mail gave Bill Howell their full backing during his short-lived ban from Villa Park in 2006, the Derby Evening Telegraph has not been so supportive of Hallam.

His weekly Derby County column (which was published every Thursday) has been axed by the Evening Telegraph, and reports say that this comes after Rams officials had complained to the paper that Hallam had been trying to “destabilise the club” due to his regular questioning and criticism of GSE (again, you need to scroll down to the first bold bit when clicking the above link).

I’m sure that losing his column isn’t the end of the world for Hallam – who also works for the nationals, covering football in the Daily Mail and cricket in the Daily Telegraph – but it will be interesting to see how this story develops.

As with what happened to Bill Howell, the Neil Hallam affair raises some pointed questions about the freedom of the press, especially when it comes to reporting on sport.

I find it troubling that a journalist can be silenced so easily after posing what would seem to be a number of, if perhaps uncomfortable, perfectly legitimate and legal questions.

Challenging the views of a football manager, who in all likelihood won’t be around at that club forever, is one thing.

It would appear that taking a group of multimillionaire investors to task is quite another.

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