Here’s Chip’s article
AFL should stay out of the blackball game
CHIP LE GRAND
Victorian Chief ReporterMelbourne
We should give Gillon McLachlan some benefit of the doubt.
Not long ago, the AFL boss took a nasty tumble on his pushbike. He had a helmet on but by all accounts, he hit the bitumen hard enough to knock a screw loose.
That said, what McLachlan has today proposed cannot be entirely explained by a bump to the head.
During his regular spot with Radio 3AW host Neil Mitchell, McLachlan was asked to respond to a suggestion made during the week by Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley that journalists who write or broadcast false stories should be stripped of their AFL accreditation.
Buckley was incensed by a claim made by 6PR broadcaster Brad Hardie that Fremantle coach Ross Lyon, through an intermediary, had let Collingwood know he was interested in Buckley’s job. Lyon denied the claim, describing it as erroneous, reckless and without foundation.
When Mitchell put the suggestion to McLachan, the AFL chief executive’s response was jaw dropping.
“I actually thought it was quite a good idea,’’ McLachlan said.
“There is a responsibility everywhere. Our players, coaches and officials, everyone is held incredibly accountable every day. We are also talking about people’s livelihoods and careers and this allegation talked to integrity.
“The thought that someone, if they actually just make something up that has such significant ramifications, I think there has to be an accountability for that and taking accreditation away seems to me to be a fairly logical outcome of that.
“I reckon it is worth looking at.’’
Let’s be clear what McLachlan is saying here. According to the AFL boss, anyone working in the media who writes or broadcasts false information could be stripped of their accreditation and denied access to games they are employed to attend.
Football writers everywhere will be hoping that McLachlan acknowledges the folly and danger inherent in this proposition.
Several points should be made.
The first is that the AFL is not qualified to be an arbiter of what is true and false in football.
Remember, this is the organisation whose previous chief executive Andrew Demetriou vowed to “go to my grave’’ on the knowledge that Essendon was not paying James Hird during his year of suspension. Demetriou was dead wrong; Hird was being paid.
Demetriou publicly ridiculed this reporter, on the Neil Mitchell program, for writing that the AFL had put a settlement offer to Essendon doctor Bruce Reid and was poised to drop a conduct unbecoming case against him. “Absolutely garbage, not correct,’’ Demetriou thundered.
The story was absolutely correct. A week later, the AFL dropped the charge against Reid and the case was settled.
These are merely my examples. Any journalist who writes about football long enough will have examples of their own. It is not always a case of an AFL official lying, although some certainly do. In the case of McLachlan’s mentor Demetriou, he simply didn’t know what was going on in his own organisation.
The second is that McLachlan’s notion is a classic straw man. Sports journalists rarely, if ever, make things up. We get things wrong but almost always, it is because we haven’t sufficiently checked something or relied on too few sources or the wrong sources or misunderstood information we’ve been given.
Brad Hardie isn’t a journalist. He is a retired footballer who makes a living as a radio personality. It wouldn’t have occurred to Hardie, as it would to any journalist, to go to Buckley and Lyon and their respective football clubs for comment prior to putting such a sensational claim to air. That doesn’t mean Hardie made it up. And Lyon’s denial doesn’t necessarily make Hardie wrong.
The third is that, just as the AFL holds to account executives who cannot keep their trousers on at work — although, this is something of a new direction under McLachlan — journalists and broadcasters are held to account by the media companies that pay their wages.
Failing that, there are defamation laws, press council and AMCA regulations and other legal restrictions on what can be reported.
It is worth remembering that as we read the sad tale of Chris Yarran and his ice addition, a Victorian Supreme Court order remains in place prohibiting any reporting of AFL players who have tested positive to illicit drugs under the AFL’s contentious “three strikes’’ policy.
The AFL hires its own football writers — more than any single media company — to report the stories it likes. Some journalists on the AFL payroll also provide content for commercial broadcasters.
If the AFL had its way, many important football stories would never be published. In this, they are no different from governments and large corporations. Yet, as far as we know, they are the only Australian organisation proposing to blackball journalists for what they write.