by Tony Attwood
A petition signed by over three-quarters of a million people which calls for curbs on the British media has been handed into the government. And while the motivation behind the petition has nothing to do with the vilification of footballers by the media, it could, if adopted by the state, be used to curtail the currently ceaseless wild excesses of football commentators who abuse players, managers and other fans.
For the petition, if it were to become law, would make media bullying and harassment a criminal offence. It has arisen from the way in which the media focused on TV presenter Caroline Flack who subsequently committed suicide, and says, in the words of Holly Maltby, of campaigning group 38 Degrees, that the media should be “held accountable for the way they harass and vilify people”.
Shortly before her death the presenter wrote “The truth has been taken out of my hands and used as entertainment.”
While the focus has very much been on the Ms Flack taking her own life, the vilification of some footballers by blogs, TV and radio programmes and newspapers has for years been taken as normal, and has now reached outrageous proportions, without any thought about the effect it may have on the players themselves. From my personal point of view, where the player has committed a horrendous and career-damaging tackle or similar offence, that indeed can be publicised because clearly the player has been lacking in care in doing his job and through his actions has damaged another. But when the attacks are on a player simply because he has had a bad game, the language needs to be moderated, and the negative reports kept within proportion.
Most newspapers and magazines in the UK are currently regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) under the “Editors’ Code of Practice.” This appears to have a little impact on reigning in comments on people in the public eye, but even this minuscule protection for individuals doesn’t exist with footballers.
There is some progress happening however, as Ofcom which regulates television and radio broadcasters in the UK is expected to be given more powers over social media firms in the near future. There is the suggestion that this change will reduce harassment, intimidation and bullying. If it were effective it would make much of the commentary on social media of footballers open to challenge.
Take for example, the headline from The Football Tavern “‘Laughably bad’, ‘Terrible’ – Many Arsenal fans slam player who lost the ball 22 times” That report from the Transfer Tavern over Joe Willock could well be described as bullying (and that without even needing to check if statistic is right anyway) and would, therefore, be open to a legal challenge against the owners of The Football Tavern.
Of course, it is not just Arsenal players who get this treatment, and nor would it stop all debate. The headline “‘He has the biggest ego on that pitch’ – Many LFC fans slam ‘pathetic’ footage from Fratton Park” from
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