Ulster Rugby media chief attacks the 'conduct of news journalists'
An Ulster Rugby media officer has accused news journalists of 'unprofessional' behaviour at a press conference.
It relates to the first press event held by the troubled club after former players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were unanimously acquitted of rape.
No Ulster Ruby corporate spokespersons attended to field questions about the effect the high-profile trial had had on the club and its players, or about Ulster Rugby's review into Olding and Jackson's suitability to continue as players with the club. Both players have since had their contracts revoked.
Before the press event, held on April 2, the club had tried to restrict the questions which could be asked by journalists attending.
It had said in a pre-press conference email: "Please note that this is our match week media call so only rugby matters will be discussed.
No comments will be made in relation to the trial or subsequent review."
At the news conference, some questions were put to head coach Jono Gibbes which Ulster Rugby's press officers did not find acceptable.
All news reporters were subsequently banned from Ulster Rugby press conferences, while sports journalists continue to be permitted to attend - a move which has been criticised.
Ulster Rugby later issued a statement which said "the conduct of news journalists at a recent press conference negatively impacted our ability to deliver a meaningful event that focused on rugby".
The club said the decision to restrict access to sports journalists was made "following consultation with regular press conference attendees" - a claim which angered several local rugby writers. Ulster Rugby's senior communications manager Richard Finlay told the Irish Times that the ban on news journalists remains in place.
Asked by the newspaper to explain what he meant by the "conduct of news journalists at a recent press conference", Mr Finlay said: "We are not prepared (to explain the Ulster statement]) at this stage. I can just say it was unprofessional, to say the least."
A journalist who attended the controversial press conference, said: "No news reporter behaved unprofessionally at the press conference.
"They just asked questions Ulster Rugby weren't prepared to answer. Jono Gibbes even said the questions were fair enough.
"We were courteous. Twice I asked questions - one about the rumour of a split in the Ulster changing room - but I was shut down. "
The subsequent ban on news journalists attending press conferences - which continued this week - had been strongly criticised.
Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: "This is an unacceptable attempt to control media coverage and reflects a wider failure to understand the level of public interest in the story.
"No sporting organisation has a right to shape the news or to seek to divide journalists," he said.
"Sports journalists fully understand why this issue is not just a sports story.
"As for complaints by Ulster Rugby about the behaviour of journalists at a press conference, the officers might well reflect on the irony of their position: it was not badly behaved journalists who were responsible for the difficulties Ulster Rugby has found itself in."
The Belfast Telegraph contacted Mr Finlay about the issue, but had not received a response last night.