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On Premier League’s new media rules

The Telegraph ran this story about a new set of Premier League rules being passed, giving the press and media rights holders wider access to the managers and players.

The gist of the story was:

1. players can be interviewed immediately after a match [ie, players of winning teams only. If it ended in a draw players of both teams can be interviewed right on the pitch once the whistle blows]

2. managers are required to talk to ‘rights holders’ — which means Sky (to whom Fergie already talks to) and the BBC MotD (to whom he doesn’t and sends Phelan instead)

3. it is also mandatory for the manager or a senior member of the coaching staff to give a press conference.

Now I have no access to the actual literature of the rules that have been reportedly passed by the Premier League. So I cannot comment on whether this actually forces the manager into talking to the rights holders — or if he could send his deputy. [Note: I am talking about the post-match interviews to reporters and not the press conference in #3.]

But, since there seems to be a big deal made of this, let’s say we trust the Telegraph story and assume that the new rules will indeed force Ferguson’s hand. Now, this means it will usher in a new age of more transparency between press and the Premier League sides.

Now that’s all well and good. The problem however is it opens up players and managers to more vulnerability in saying things in the heat of the moment, and perhaps higher chances of saying stuff they would normally not say.

This is in light of everything that’s transpiring between the referees’ union and Ferguson — all because he expressed an opinion, albeit a rather harsh one, on referee fitness levels. So with increased media access, are the Premier League also taking steps to define rules on what kind of things a manager or player can or cannot say.

Let’s dispense with the obvious: one cannot eff, or cee, or go bollocks! at the reporter — “it’s a family show,” they would say. But how about defining, to everyone involved, what constitutes ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ behaviour. [As an aside, if they are working on it, good luck to them.]

A simple case in point, why this is very tricky: Geoff Shreeves, I believe, asked Ferguson following the Chelsea defeat, “I don’t want to try and put words in your mouth, but did the referee cost you the match?”

I don’t know, Geoff, but to me you just shoved those words deep into his oesophagus. And I think, Fergie, with all the stuff going on around him, did a decent job chewing those words down, instead deciding to go for some sensible — albeit banal — phrasing.

There is increased press access — some would say, on the lines of how it’s done in North American sport — but if that means there are less shackles on the pressers to put as many crafty words as they can into managers’ and players’ mouths, will there be a relaxation (or a more defined structure to the rules) on the players’ / managers’ side to make this actually work?

If not, we’ll either see more outbursts — and hence, more recrimination from offended parties — or we’ll see players and managers trot out tired cliches, making this whole exercise rather pointless and adding little value.

Further reading — although a bit tangential to this — on United Rant regarding the refs’ union’s threat to sue Ferguson.

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