Why banning journalists is bad for business and reputation

When journalists are expelled or barred from entry to a country, it usually prompts outrage about the freedom of the press and a discussion about democracy.

But banning journalists at any level almost inevitably leads to only one thing: bad publicity.

Last week, the sports reporter in Swindon, Sam Morshead, was banned from having access to the local football club’s media facilities with all the coverage and interview benefits that come with that privilege.

His punishment was in response to a tweet he sent an hour and a half before Swindon Town played Peterborough where he revealed that a particular player, Nile Ranger, would be involved in the game for the home side.

The news had already been tweeted by fans, one of whom had seen Ranger’s kit hanging up in the dressing room.

Ranger scored in the game but the Peterborough manager admitted that he had changed his team after finding out the news.

Morshead had known Ranger would be playing for a few days but kept the information to himself until it was put in the public domain by the fans.

If it was such a secret, one could argue that the club should have done more to conceal his involvement from supporters and the fact that Swindon won means no harm was done, although the club would argue that that was irrelevant.

I have to declare an interest here.

I started my career as a sports journalist, covering Havant Town (now Havant and Waterlooville), Portsmouth and Reading for the local newspapers.

It’s a tricky job, particularly when things are going badly on the pitch. You have to balance the insatiable appetite for news with the need to maintain good relations with the club, even when having to tell stories that they may not like or wish to be revealed.

I’m glad to say that I never had a run-in such as that unravelling in Swindon but then again, it was in the days before social media and wifi which have made the speed of information much faster than even 20 years ago, when the Saturday Pink newspaper coming out an hour after the game was seen as remarkably fast.
In a crisis, we always advise our clients never to consider “no comment” as a strategy which presupposes guilt or having something to hide.

Even if there is sensitive information or a lack of information in the time of an incident, experienced communicators are still able to provide some point of view.

Newcastle banned their local newspaper recently as well and threatened legal action. All it does is reflect badly on the club.

In the case of Swindon, it would have been far more productive for both parties to have a grown up conversation about the potential news value or delicacy of revealing supposedly sensitive information before a game.

That said, the job of journalists is to find out and publish information while long term relationships are important, if a story is there to be reported, attempts at censorship or punishment for a reporter doing his job are somewhat archaic.

The media and the subjects they report about need each other and banning journalists, particularly those who have only revealed information once it is already in the public domain, only reflects badly on the organisation that shuts its doors.