Man Utd 'threatened to ban Indy over critical story'

Independent editor Chris Blackhurst last night urged Lord Justice Leveson to scrutinise the role of the PR industry amid claims Manchester United threatened to ban his paper from Old Trafford unless it apologised over a story that was critical of the club.

Blackhurst said after the recent story appeared ‘the message was conveyed to me that unless we apologised, unless we retracted immediately, we would be banned”.

‘Our journalists would not be allowed to the Carrington training ground and would probably not be allowed into Old Trafford to cover their matches,” he added.

‘Is that ethical? They didn’t like the story – we thought we were doing our job as journalists in reporting the story.”

A spokesman for the club told Press Gazette it was not aware of the story and said ‘the club don’t have any issues with the Independent newspaper”.

Last May a Sky News mic picked up the club’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson telling a press officer to ban a journalist who asked a question about Ryan Giggs, after he was named as the footballer accused of having an affair with Welsh model Imogen Thomas.

Blackhurst was speaking at a panel on the lessons for journalists from Leveson and the hacking scandal organised by Press Gazette and City University last night in which he urged the inquiry to put the spotlight on the world of PR.

‘He [Leveson] says he’s looking beyond hacking – to my knowledge so far he’s not called any PRs or lobbyists,’he said.

‘There’s a huge industry out there that now employs more people than journalists, that makes far more money than journalists. We refer to it as the dark side with good reason and those people are not being called.

Blackhurst said there similar issues within the fashion industry, adding: ”If my fashion editor upsets one of the top designers in Milan, says I don’t like this collection it’s rubbish, the next year they won’t be back.

‘It happens in all industries. City PRs earn fortunes. You have to ask yourself, why do they earn fortunes? They earn a lot more than national newspaper editors, I can tell you.

‘They’re driving round in Rolls Royces and Bentleys, they earn as much as bankers. No one’s ever thought and bothered to pause and said, ‘what do these people actually do?’. He [Leveson] is not looking at that.”

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