The National Union of Journalists has written to Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley condemning him for banning local journalists from the club’s press box.
The club has objected to coverage in the Newcastle Chronicle, Journal and Sunday Sun about protests against Ashley’s leadership.
Fans at the club are angry over Ashely’s decision to sign a sponsorship deal with pay-day loan company Wonga. They also expressed outrage over his decision to rebrand St James’s Park as the Sports Direct Arena.
Labour MP for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah joined the citicism of the club.
— chi onwurah (@ChiOnwurah) October 29, 2013
Journalists at the three local papers covered the fan discontent and as a result have been banned from asking questions of the club’s manager Alan Pardew.
The newspapers decided against going public about the ban in advance of last weekend’s crunch derby defeat against local rivals Sunderland.
However, following the game, the Journal’s Mark Douglas was prevented from asking questions.
The NUJ said: “This attack on media freedom and the ability of journalists to carry out their work on behalf of their readers and the local community is shameful and must be condemned.
Chris Morley, NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser, said: “Our members have been caught in a dispute between Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley and their newspaper and do not deserve to be treated in the outrageous way they have.
“They were carrying out their professional duties in what was an important news story and event for the whole of the North East. Yet they were left humiliated by the football club officials who refused point blank to deal with their legitimate questions on behalf of their readers. Reporters from national titles were allowed to ask questions.
“This is a denial of freedom of the media and expression and an attempt by powerful people at the club to take retribution for coverage they did not like. This is totally undemocratic, arrogant and an abuse of position – but worst of all it is an attack on their own supporters in the North East who look to their local paper to report on their favourite football club.”
An NUJ member working for the paper said:
"If we had not reported on the protest march the previous Saturday afternoon, we would not have been doing our jobs. Now we are banned because we are doing our jobs.
"We are trying to stay adult about it. We do get stick for all sorts of reasons as local sports reporters, but on this there has been 98 per cent positive feedback on Twitter and people are supporting us as local journalists and the newspapers as institutions of the city."
David Baines, NUJ Newcastle branch representative, said:
"We have seen this kind of bullying by Newcastle United before. They have form; they are serial offenders. They just can’t take criticism, can they?
"The club has placed itself alongside many unsavoury organisations around the world which, instead of doing something about their own failings, inadequacies, incompetency, brutalities, try to stop people mentioning them. That way, they hope, criticism will disappear.
"But they can’t stop people talking about their inadequacies around the water cooler, in the bars, on the terraces, on Twitter and Facebook – so they try to stop journalists doing their jobs, writing about them, reporting on them.
"The leaders of Newcastle United emerge as rather pathetic figures, thin-skinned and paranoid. But what this bullying behaviour really betrays is an ingrained lack of respect for the team’s fans – whose money pays the executive wages. It is the fans who ultimately lose out when a football club bans the local papers.
"I was going to suggest that this kind of behaviour was more suited to the primary school playground than the big boys’ game, but that would be very unfair on the children who are for the most part far more mature and sporting."