Ulster Rugby lifts news reporters ban but refuses questions
News journalists were admitted to an Ulster Rugby press conference for the first time since Easter Monday yesterday - but were effectively gagged, after the Belfast Telegraph was told its questions on press exclusion were "not at all relevant".
This newspaper was one of only two media outlets to send a news reporter to the match briefing with Ulster's head coach Jono Gibbes, and the only one to ask questions regarding the club's ban on news journalists, in force since last month.
The ban on news reporters followed the nine-week trial of former Ulster Rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were acquitted of rape.
However, they were sacked following an internal review of their conduct and behaviour by Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).
Yesterday's press event was held ahead of Sunday's match against Ospreys. When this newspaper asked Mr Gibbes why Ulster Rugby had decided to re-admit news reporters yesterday, and whether it regretted the ban, he repeatedly turned to the club's Senior Communications Officer Richard Finlay.
Mr Finlay said the question was "not at all relevant to this weekend's game" and that he would be "happy to speak" to us afterwards.
As this reporter waited, Mr Finlay then declared that he would respond via email.
Despite this pledge, Ulster Rugby's response failed to address the queries.
Secretary of the Belfast and District Branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Ciaran O Maolain said that Ulster Rugby's behaviour yesterday hadn't yet fixed how it deals with the media.
The NUJ has met with Ulster Rugby over the issue, and remains in correspondence with the club to seek a resolution.
"They haven't really gone far enough to repair the damage done to relations with our profession," said Mr O Maolain.
"The NUJ was deeply unhappy with the allegation that news journalists were behaving 'unprofessionally' when they were doing their jobs legitimately, and we hope the ongoing dialogue with Ulster Rugby will result in more appropriate and respectful treatment of media representatives. We hope to get the situation resolved by the end of the month."
When the rape trial ended on March 28, Ulster Rugby sent an email to journalists ahead of its press event on April 2 which said "only rugby matters will be discussed".
Some reporters subsequently asked questions which were deemed 'unacceptable' by Ulster Rugby, leading the club to restrict access to sports journalists only.
Ulster Rugby issued a statement criticising "the conduct of news journalists". and Mr Finlay claimed the news journalists' conduct had been "unprofessional" - a claim disputed by those who attended.
What we asked - and that they replied
- Why did Ulster Rugby decide to re-admit news journalists to its press conference?
- Does Ulster Rugby regret banning news journalists?
- Does Ulster Rugby still stand by saying news journalists acted unprofessionally?
- What would Ulster Rugby say to criticism that the club mishandled the situation?
A spokesperson for Ulster Rugby said: "We can confirm that all accreditation requests for today's match briefing were facilitated, in line with tournament guidelines.
"Tournament organisers stipulate the following in relation to pre-match media events:
"Clubs shall invite relevant representatives of the media to preview the upcoming match.
"Clubs shall ensure the attendance of senior coaches and players
"Terms of accreditation for media may be introduced."