Ulster Rugby criticised for bid to ban reporters at its press events
Ulster Rugby's ban on news reporters attending pre-match press conferences following the sacking of two players has been criticised as an "unacceptable attempt to control media coverage".
Yesterday's event, traditionally open to all media, was confined to rugby as the club moves to limit questions about the fallout from the players' rape trial and subsequent dismissal.
In a statement, Ulster Rugby berated news journalists for having "negatively impacted" a press conference held after the acquittal of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.
The ban on news media came after an apparent concern that too many questions about Jackson and Olding's high-profile trial and acquittals were asked at the first press conference in the aftermath of their acquittal last month.
"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," Ulster Rugby said.
It added that reporters "who would regularly cover our press conferences and matches" were welcome to attend, and suggested an interview of Ulster Rugby's CEO Shane Logan which took place in the aftermath of the trial, should now "allow the coaches and players to focus on on-pitch matters".
But the situation was deemed "unacceptable" by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), with Irish secretary Seamus Dooley saying current issues facing the club go beyond sport.
"This is an unacceptable attempt to control media coverage and reflects a wider failure to understand the level of public interest in the story," Mr Dooley said.
"No sporting organisation has a right to shape the news or to seek to divide journalists."
Jackson and Olding were sacked 10 days ago following an internal review into their conduct by their employers Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union.
While Jackson (26) and Olding (25) were found not guilty of rape last month, other aspects of their behaviour had been heavily criticised, with major sponsors having voiced concern.