Confusion, laziness or attempt to mislead? Why we need rigour in football journalism

By Tony Attwood

Towards the end of 2014 Untold ran a series of articles under the general heading of “Football Betrayed” in which I tried to put forward the notion that there are a lot of at best unexplained, and at worst down right corrupt practices in football, which football journalists simply fail to address.

In the endless rush to judge an entire season based on the last ten minutes they ignore key factors and serious issues.  The grotesque above-government organisations like Fifa and the FA are rarely if ever called to account, and where outright law breaking is found (as with Barcelona) the matter is shunted away as a minor technical matter, and prominence is given to sweet talking press releases from the club.

The rigour that is seen in other areas of journalism in the serious press – such as the way the Telegraph exposed the MP’s expenses scam in Britain and the Guardian stood up against the rest and covered the revelations into just how much surveillance we are all under – is utterly missing.

And yet as we have shown, football worldwide and Premier League football in particular has money passing in and around it which is larger than that controlled by a large number of members of the United Nations.

In some countries such as Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Argentina football is collapsing under the threats from corruption and crowd rioting.  In England there is a case to consider in terms of biased refereeing, and yet the media gives us little on these matters.

Worse, in the case of refereeing, when we do hear that there is an issue we are told that 97% of all refereeing decisions are correct.  No evidence is given, but to their eternal shame, journalists don’t actually ask for proof and let us know the answer they got.

But what is the cause?  Is it a deliberate policy to tell us all is sweet and lovely, for fear that the football authorities might stop the journalist from attending matches?  There have been one or two cases like this – Leeds used to do it I recall, but not many.

Or are the footballing authorities making a broader sweep: lay off this topic or else you will lose your licence to print fixtures and your accreditation within the grounds?   That is possible, and here’s why…

In February this year Peter Osborne resigned as chief political commentator at the Telegraph, after five years in the job.  He report of the matter is certainly worth a read.

He realised something was up when his factual account of the banking giant HSBC closing the accounts of British Muslims without any appeal was pulled by the The Telegraph.  When the story started to emerge of a serious black hold in HSBC accounts it too was pulled.

It gets worse and worse, but the fact is that HSBC was advertising in the Telegraph and the Telegraph would not cover any negative story on HSBC.

Just as most papers would not cover the story about a German television crew recently being arrested, interrogated and having all the content they had recorded deleted and equipment destroyed by Qatari authorities while filming a documentary about the 2022 World Cup.

A reporter, cameraman, camera assistant and driver were denied permission to leave the dictatorship for five days and were only allowed to return home following intense lobbying by their ambassador.  If you missed that one, it is not surprising.

So there is a growing problem with some of the press, and the Telegraph in particular, which goes beyond the normal political bias.  The right wing press in Britain for example are on a relentless campaign against the SNP, the hugely successful party of Scotland, but that is to be expected.  We know it is there, and that’s what you get.  In the name of freedom of publication, I can live with that because it is overt, crude and badly done.

But this sort of deliberate manipulation of stories, and the cutting of stories for fear of offending Qatar (and so not getting accreditation for the world cup) or for fear of offending HSBC (for fear of losing advertising) is much more serious and much more sinister.

Now of course I know that it is still possible to contemplate ludicrous articles in the press as being created through ignorance not through deliberate bias, and it is true that the Telegraph’s refusal to cover the admission by the Liverpool owner about how he lied, lied and lied again over the Suarez £40m buy out clause might have been slipshod journalism, or just a decision based on the notion that football fans’ memories are so short that they wouldn’t remember the original affair by the time the revelation came out.

But when they use that omission as a fundamental point on which to build another article (in this case knocking Arsenal) nearly two years later, is pushing this a bit far.

Why the Telegraph doesn’t want to run stories about HSBC closing accounts due to religious affiliation (or at least run a story showing why these are awful rumours set up by the enemies of the bank) and why it wouldn’t cover the story of HSBC’s financial failure, are of course much more weighty.

But once this sort of thing is going on, then it is almost certain to permeate the whole of the newspaper, and most likely the whole of the media.

And when that happens, something stranger happens too.  For the Telegraph, the Henry admission of lying never happened – hence last week’s article attacking Arsenal for being weak willed.  But then it begins to warp the entire way the Telegraph writes about Arsenal from thereon in.

And not just Arsenal, but also other football matters.  Such as refereeing.   The policy is clearly that even the notion that some referees might be not acting in the full interests of the game is not to be debated.  I am not saying they should say, “Premier League refs are corrupt” but at least acknowledge that there are issues to be considered in the figures available, the strange “97%” response from PGMO, the singular lack of available officials, and the danger that brings… well you know all this if you regularly read Untold.

To me, the behaviour of the Telegraph of late, and the failure of much of the media to focus on the behaviour of officialdom in Qatar suggests that what we are seeing is not just political bias, not just football journalistic incompetence, but a policy within much of the media not to touch anything to do with certain topics.

So, to conclude consider this: incompetence or a deliberate attempt to knock? It comes from today’s Telegraph on line. It contained both these headlines

Ox could be back for FA Cup final

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to full training and and should feature in England’s summer matches

Oxlade-Chamberlain in FA Cup final blow

England winger missed last year’s final through injury and now Arsene Wenger has admitted that he is unlikely to play again this season
What makes me mention this final point, which of course is trivial compared with the allegation of deliberately omitting information and misleading the public, is the fact that what the Telegraph does in the second heading is put that Mr Wenger has “admitted” – suggesting it was he that was hiding the facts, not the Telegraph.  Now that is insidious.
Of course it is not just the Telegraph that is slipping into becoming the mouthpiece of various organisations, as when it ran a PGMO press release as a news story, or as it is doing with the coverage of Liverpool’s affairs.   The Independent’s shameless running of a Barcelona press release in which claimed that the ruling against them over child trafficking was against EU freedom of movement rules, and then quoting wholly false rates of tax that the club is paying, was just as awful.
In terms of all types of reporting we are sinking, but no one is reaching for the lifeboats.
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22 Replies to “Confusion, laziness or attempt to mislead? Why we need rigour in football journalism”

  1. There is a wellknown saying “In war, the first casualty is the truth”.
    This maxim can, of course, apply equally in peacetime as newspapers and television fight their respective corners for sales and ratings.
    Those of us of a certain age are well-experienced in separating wheat from chaff.

  2. To the rest of you I say “Bad Luck”. You will simply have to await old age like what we ‘ad to do”. 😉

  3. The reason for such pathetic journalism in respect of footy is that in most cases the journalists themselves are just lazy. They have less understanding of the game of football and tactics than the fans but a better knowledge of the business of football, but that doesn’t sell papers or gain ‘clicks’. So they shovel out drivel knowing that no one can stop them without going ‘legal’. The clubs know that if they went legal they’d get such bad publicity until the legal decision that it’s not worth chasing for a 3 line apology on the bottom of page 45 (just below the XXX phone call ads), and after the apology the paper would still be horribly bias.
    So in the interest of truth, don’t read or buy any newspaper.
    The news section of the BBC, Straits times, NY Times etc etc are just a click away for world news.

  4. ‘and now Arsene Wenger has admitted that’
    It is now fashionable, one might even say mandatory, to use the more dramatic word ‘admitted’ in place of the more accurate word ‘said’. Read any news paper, blog or article and you will see it on a daily basis. It’s been annoying me for a while now, but it is just another example of the poor use of the English language by most of today’s poorly educated would be journalists, both professional and internet amateurs.

  5. Just look for the agenda. If there is none just enjoy the article.
    Those with agenda’s usually do not make sense, as they try to force the agenda into the story, and it usually does not fit.

  6. Para you will find in the history books and the released archives of the Second World War how important agendas and controlling a debate can be.

    If you were exposed to the wrong propaganda that was enough to get you sent to a gulag (Stamford Bridge) or a camp.

    This is extremely strong evidence to support the understanding that propaganda simply works through the mechanism of repetition.

  7. For example:

    Aunty Bleeb carries an interview with the shiny new Manc signing.

    A shame they’ve never been capable of publishing or discussing the following variations reflected over the previous decade:

    Di Maria: £60M = a flop so far
    Sanchez: £30M = best signing of the year in the league bar none! he’s done well not to pick up any splinters.

    Shaw: £30M = a flop! but at least his agent was happy when Uncle Roy inexplicably picked a bloated rookie ahead of the only English LB who plays in the CL.
    Chambers: £15M = worried about cbs tax AFC. Feeling a mild panic set in? Go and rewatch the super cup game from August amongst others. He’s a good un.

    Instead you get the Özil screed. Repeated by those who have an inability to resist being told what to say.

  8. Finsbury i know, have been looking at “world history” since my birth 🙂 at least since i realised something was wrong. Same perpetrators, same agenda, same implementation across the board.

    Anyway AV are going to be so demoralised, unless they can come back (from 5-0 down)in the second half and 1st half not even over yet.

  9. Para well said. I don’t believe I am immune to propaganda so I do as you said above, I only listen to hear him come out with such gems as:

    “M.Dawson should be playing for England” (alongside Shawcross?)

  10. I long gave up on the news media especially papers to be useful and tell me what to think .( But you have to light the fire with something.) They will only tell you what they want you to know and as 90% of the population only hear what they want to hear you have the right conditions for a society that doesn’t know and really doesn’t care unless there’s a pair of boobs at the end of it. As for Durham he trades on the insecurities of a number of Arsenal supporters , if they pointedly ignored him , did not phone him up and bite , he would look elsewhere.

  11. There’s no need to bite when he and his pals at Newscorp come out with gibberish like:

    Dawson should play for England

    Who could or would take what they have to say about the footy with any seriousness after such comedy? He’s simply a shock jock, not a very good one. The point is even a transparent orifice like Durham can be a usefu puppet because if he’s simply given the air time by his owners people will listen, and some will unfortunately repeat what they are told.

  12. Eagerness with every word, except I am saying some of the refereeing is corrupt

  13. Ollie Hackney
    Purposely implying guilt is probably nearer the truth in the same way that other overused word ‘snub’ (To rebuff, ignore, or spurn disdainfully) is provocatively employed as a slur against Wenger when a player supposedly decides against joining Arsenal.

  14. I suspect the premier league gives, through sky sports, one Rupert Murdoch his best revenue stream, so he will never let anything jeopardise that.

    The Guardian ,meanwhile, is the only news organisation you could reasonably expect to show any interest into investigating possible corruption in football (David Conn was delving into 3rd party practices earlier this year- which stopped abruptly the moment Blatter said it would definitely stop at some unspecified date.) but you can’t harbour much hope, as football will always, rightly I suppose, be too far down the list of important things in the world to warrant their using the finite resources they have to look into it.

    I’ve said it before and it remains a disappointment, and a surprise, that the hacking investigation didn’t stumble upon serious dodginess in the football world. As far as I recall, they appeared to only be after the gossip, so to speak, information about players private lives, but it made little sense to me that they would go after the PFA chairman with such gusto (targeting not just him but about a dozen people around him) and not go after countless players, managers and maybe even
    referees and others within the game.

    Worth remembering again,though, that Murdoch would never ever harm his business, so he would never report anything which harmed the premier league, his great product. The not-so-good news is that Murdoch should finally get his wish and get full control of BskyB in the next couple of years.

    I noticed the other day, by the way, that Scudamore was a director of Pgmol from 2001-2008. Also that Utd’s powerful former chairman (now Britain’s top man with Fifa) was for a time head of the committee which sets Scudamore’s pay for his main job (ah, for the phone calls between those parties!). The press would, if normal, at least probe and question whether it’s the best way to go about things.

  15. rich – the corruption you mention seeps through MP expenses, phone hacking, police corruption, miners strike, election victories, political appointments by No10, share holding in some football clubs, oil deals in the far east, war mongering in Africa, ….. there’s a whole load more. What chance of football corruption showing over the parapet? It is truly all UNTOLD.

  16. The level of incompetence and corruption is reaching unintended heights. What’s worst than greed? It’s greed without empathy. I think the world is changing in a pace that many people are very uncomfortable with the new landscape of things. Not buying a newspaper, breaking off friendships and starting a riot just because our indifference of ideas is not a solution. As I have mentioned many times, Arsene Wenger is my role model in life. I always asked myself why on earth does he not only response to scums in the media, but he treats them very well and very professionally? After many thoughts and experiences, I realize that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I think he leads a honest life and confronts everything, right or wrong. He stands his ground on the right things and concedes and improves on the wrong things. His emotions are balanced and he concentrates on the most important things despite the challenges ahead. Sometimes we get what we need and sometimes we lose what we want. I guess that’s much better than the opposite of what I’ve mentioned. Life is short, so let’s do our best and keep doing if it feels right.

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