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July 15, 2014updated 16 Jul 2014 1:20pm

Sports journalists cry foul amid suspicions Sun has become Newcastle United ‘media partner’

By William Turvill

Questions have been raised about the relationship between The Sun and Newcastle United, with rival journalists suggesting the two organisations have entered into a ‘media partnership’.

It was reported last year that the Premier League club was offering exclusive media access on a paid-for basis.

The Times's George Caulkin, Luke Edwards, North East football correspondent for the Telegraph, and Simon Bird, North East football correspondent for the Daily Mirror, have spoken out after claiming The Sun was the only newspaper to be invited to a press conference yesterday.

Bird also pointed to a Sun article by the newspaper’s City editor headlined: “Why we should love Mike Ashley”.

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Edwards tweeted this morning: “The Sun have agreed to become media partner of #nufc. In other words the newspaper version of the official website. Access but no criticism!”

This came minutes after Bird tweeted: “No national newspapers apart from The Sun invited to interview Remy Cabella yesterday. Mike Ashley gets his cash for questions wish?

“Ashley offered 'access packages' last season. Wants cosy relationship with preferred media partner to avoid criticism & help Sports Direct.”

Caulkin said on Twitter: "Sub-plot at #Nufc – The Sun is clearly their 'preferred' newspaper partner. Only national represented at Cabella, Colback & both De Jong …. 'unveilings' – as well as others – at a time when access to non rights holders is being cut.

"Been told repeatedly that Ashley wants to break tradition of papers having free access to clubs, matches, notwithstanding free advertising in return. Wouldn't be shocked if there was an announcement of some sort of official tie-in with The Sun…

"One thing I've heard – may just be a proposal for now – is that The Sun could sponsor #Nufc Academy & so could present any arrangement as them 'leading search for next Gazza' for example. Would still be form of paid-for access. And what would fans of other clubs think?"

The Sun denied it was "involved in any discussions that would give it exclusive access to a football club, or prevent other media outlets from having access".

In December last year, the Newcastle Chronicle reported that the club had “mooted [a] plan to try to make papers pay for “exclusive” access.

It said: “At least one national newspaper had heard of the plan but there has been an overwhelmingly negative response since news of the proposal leaked.”

A well-placed source told Press Gazette: “Newcastle’s press office briefed reporters last season about the proposal to restrict access of newspapers to players to nothing more than a mixed zone after the game, which is required by Premier League rules, they said exclusive interviews with new signings and players would be the main appeal of entering into a partnership with them. There was a clear indication that extra access would have to be paid for.”

Newcastle United is known to have ‘banned’ a number of journalists and newspapers over the last couple of years.

All Telegraph journalists were banned from the club at the end of the 2012/13 season after he wrote a story alleging disharmony in the team’s dressing room.

And last season the club banned several local newspapers following coverage of a fan protest over the club’s management.

The Sun, meanwhile, were banned by Newcastle’s North East rivals Sunderland last season for revealing the team’s line-up for a match.

A Sun spokesman said: "As part of ongoing efforts to expand our commercial partnerships, The Sun is in regular talks with businesses in a variety of areas.   

"It is important to note that The Sun is not involved in any discussions that would give it exclusive access to a football club, or prevent other media outlets from having access. Nor is it considering any agreement that would compromise its editorial freedoms or independence."

A Newcastle United spokesman said: "We've not announced any media partnership with any newspaper so there's nothing really else I can say."

Asked if the club is still seeking a media partner, the spokesman said: "I can't comment any further than that, I'm sorry."

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