By Tony Attwood
Read a newspaper, read the blogs, watch TV, listen to the radio, and as long as you are in England and it’s football news you want, you’ll get the same news. True there might be the occasional feature concerning something slightly out of the ordinary – an interview with an ex-player perhaps, but basically when it comes to the news, there is an agreement across journalism as to what the news is.
Now we know that is not the only news, because in much of Europe they are discussing the court cases involving the senior officials of Fifa, and the head of the Swiss judicial system, who is also on trial for collaborating with Fifa in illegal meetings. They are also interested in the story of Infantino’s hiring of a private plane and lying about why he needed it. But none of the English media takes up those stories, despite the fact that Fifa is central to all of football.
And we know there are stories in England that are not covered, such as the research into how referees are influenced by crowd noise – a remarkable piece of research that has hardly been mentioned outside of Untold, and which shows clearly that the PGMO’s story of getting 98% of its decisions right was fanciful makebelieve.
We know that refereeing is run in a different way in England from refereeing in the rest of Europe, with fewer referees and no regional balance. But the media never picks up these stories. Not once. Why is that?
We do know however that the English media endlessly run transfer stories concerning transfers that never happen. For about eight years we have tracked these through each summer, finding most of the time that only 2% of the rumours ever turn out to be true. But no one ever seems to mind that 98% of the tales are untrue. This is a main part of the material we are offered. Fantasy transfers is part of the heart of English football journalism.
Likewise there is very little mention of the growing awareness in Europe that player agents are becoming central to the arranging of transfers, undertaken for their own benefit, not the benefit of players or clubs.
However it is not the actual stories that concern me – it is the fact that all the media picks the same stories all the time. Transfers that rarely happen, managerial changes that may or may not happen. That’s what we get.
Are referees getting decisions right? No, not a subject to bring up, let alone analyse.
And I wonder why and how. Why does every outlet give us the same stories. And how do they decide on what stories they are running?
Could it be…
Because these are the stories everyone wants to read? That would be a good reason, but given everyone is covering the same tales, or at least the same sorts of tales, how do they know it is what people want to read?
Could it be…
Because someone is saying, “Don’t run any of those pieces about referees being bent” with enough force to make people do this, maybe saying “you’re accreditation for entry to the media area of the club will be withdrawn”. Or is it simply that it is never on the agenda.
Could it be…
That the outlets have tried running different sorts of stories, such as tales of corruption, suspicions of referee bias, tales of administrative incompetence… and found no one is interested?
Or could it be that everyone simply copies from everyone else?
That last possibility was what came to my mind as I followed through the use of the phrase that this was Arsenal’s “worst start to a top-flight season since 1974.” A nonsense phrase because every Arsenal season since 1919 has been a “top-flight season”. And in fact as far back as 1913 Arsenal has never had a season in which it has lost more than four home games in a row, as far as I can see.
Yes the phrase was accurate, but the use of “top flight season” was irrelevant. Yet everyone seemed to use this phrase. Tens of thousands of papers, blogs, and websites saying exactly the same thing, using exactly the same set of words. How did that happen?
I consulted a very senior academic who has studied the workings of the media from the 18th century through to today, and he confirmed that this practice of newspapers copying each other, word for word, without admitting that is what they have done, goes back at least to the 1780s, if not before.
What this means is that if someone puts out a media story that looks interesting, and fits with the existing agenda, everyone will copy it, which will quickly give out the idea that it is true. After all it is in “ALL the papers.”
Over time, without anyone saying anything, an agreement occurs over the type of stories that everyone will run. Corruption among referees is not one of these stories, so no one runs them. If someone does, it is thought to be outside the agenda, so other papers don’t pick it up. It is not a story. We know it isn’t true because it is not in the papers.
To stand out against the dominant position one has to be determined, or quite strong, or specifically interested in how the media works.
So let’s take the idea that the media is much more biased against Arsenal than against other clubs. We have analysed all the media stories across a whole weekend and found this was true. But I suspect the journalists wont even realise they are doing this, for the simple reason that they are doing the same as all their colleagues. The person who will stand out is the one who takes a different stance.
We have seen this on occasion, most notoriously with Alan Green, previously of the BBC who for a long time was very negative about the ability of referees. He stood out from the rest, but was told to stop. He was then ditched by the BBC and now there is no one criticising referees.
Of course anyone can start a blog and take a different line. Indeed Untold Arsenal has done that – our very name suggests that.
We’ve shown that 98% of transfers that are rumoured in the media, don’t happen. Yet the transfer story continues to be the main story, even though it leads nowhere.
The reason we have a particular agenda is because the media copy each other, and in so doing stay within a defined agenda. It takes an awful lot to change this agenda, but that does not mean we should not be aware of how our football news is being manipulated.
Not manipulated by a group of evil fiends who are trying to warp out views of reality, but by a group of journalists and editors, who simply copy stories from each other. The investigative reporters have long since gone. No one dares step out of the normal line of reporting for fearing of looking odd.
Well, no one but Untold a few blogs like us. But we are used to being called names.
But if you are interested – you are, through most of the media, being sold a load of fantasy. The reports you see are just the stories that journalists and bloggers circulate round and round. Reality is elsewhere.
As I will try and show in future articles.
- Why this season is not a one-off for Arsenal, but probably a sign of things to come
- Why, when a player assaults a referee, the ultimate guilty party is the media
- Arsenal and Tottenham both built stadia, and each suffered the consequence. But…
- Being a visionary is not as easy as it looks
- Fifa appeals to Swiss courts against Court of Arbitration in Sport ruling