Ulster Rugby under fire again after ban on news journalists at press briefing
Ulster Rugby has been criticised after again banning news journalists from attending its weekly press conference.
The club has excluded non-rugby reporters from its last two weekly media events at Kingspan Stadium following the sacking of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.
The National Union of Journalists said the ban was unacceptable.
Jackson and Olding were unanimously cleared last month of raping the same woman at a party at Jackson's home in June 2016. All jurors also acquitted Jackson of sexual assault.
However, the fallout from the high-profile trial has continued to overshadow Ulster Rugby.
Yesterday's press conference, which has usually been open to all media, was again confined to rugby writers as the club moved to limit questions about the fallout from the trial and subsequent dismissal of the players.
Only rugby reporters were allowed to attend the press conference at Kingspan last Tuesday, when Ulster and Ireland hooker Rob Herring read a statement saying the players were saddened by the duo's exit.
The ban continued yesterday when this weekend's match against Munster was previewed.
It is understood that all media outlets were banned from attending the press conference, unless they were sending a rugby reporter, including the Press Association which does not have a sports reporter based in Ireland.
Seamus Dooley, the NUJ's Irish secretary, said: "The NUJ is deeply concerned at the actions of Ulster Rugby in refusing media organisations accreditation for news reporters.
"We recognise that there are times when media briefings are of greater interest to sports reporters. It would be possible to give priority to sports journalists while facilitating requests from media organisations to accredit news reporters. Last week's statement on the departure of two players was both a news and sports story yet only selected sports journalists were allowed to attend the event.
"This is an unacceptable attempt to control media coverage and to reflect 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."
Ulster Rugby claimed that the decision to ban news reporters came after it consulted with sports journalists as it caused "significant disruption" to proceedings.
However, this was disputed by a number of the rugby reporters who said they were not consulted over the matter. In a statement issued to media outlets ahead of yesterday's pre-match conference, a spokesman for Ulster Rugby said: "Ulster Rugby is contractually obliged by tournament organisers to deliver a match-week press conference that provides sports journalists with an opportunity to interview a coach and players regarding that week's fixture. "As previously stated, the conduct of news journalists at a recent press conference negatively impacted our ability to deliver a meaningful event that focused on rugby content.
"All media outlets are welcome to send staff who would regularly cover our press conferences and matches, as they have done in the past. News journalists interviewed Ulster Rugby's chief executive following the outcome of the post-trial review, in order to allow the coaches and players to focus on on-pitch matters."
Ulster's official supporters' club has already said it will write to Ulster Rugby and the IRFU over the dismissal of Jackson and Olding.