Today there’s an interesting story doing the rounds from the other side of the city, and it’s one that Celtic has to look at very, very carefully. There are a number of issues which arise from it, if it’s true, and it has long-term repercussions for the whole of Scottish football.
The story surrounds Ibrox and their latest strategy for dealing with the press.
They want to charge media outlets for access to press conferences.
For £25,000 the outlets in question get one reporter and one photographer.
They also get five “exclusives” and a nice wee chin-wag with the Ibrox boss.
For those who don’t want to pay that there’s a £10,000 “package” with less exclusives.
So claims The Daily Mail, and it’s a report which I believe because it’s not the first time that such a suggestion has appeared in the public domain. One journalist spoke about it a few weeks ago in the context of the club “charging the press.”
This is a game-changer in more ways than one.
The moment the first of those cheques is written we’re in a new era and there is no rolling back.
The press has a choice here; it can either be in thrall to Ibrox permanently or it can draw a line in the sand right now and refuse to play ball and force the club to relent.
I know what the consensus from some of the Celtic sites will be; that this is a disgraceful act that should be condemned. I don’t disagree.
I have talked about charging journalists to watch games in the past and I’m in favour of that, because that’s only seats in the stand. I am tired of journalists decrying the views of the fans when they don’t have to pay to watch games and we do.
To charge outlets for attending media conferences is another thing entirely, a retrograde step in a completely different direction and which is all about asserting control and dominance and governing what the media writes, and that’s an assault on the freedom of the press itself.
So of course it is outrageous. Of course outlets should refuse point blank.
Of course no outlet which values journalism should even for one second agree to such a thing.
The thing is, some will be willing to, and we know that.
And the moment they do I would urge that Celtic adopts an identical policy, not because it’s the right thing to do – it plainly isn’t – but because in what would be a transformed media environment from that moment forward it’s the only thing we can do.
The second a national title accepts that it has to pay Ibrox for access, the relationship between that club and the press itself undergoes a marked transformation.
You think the media is subservient towards Ibrox right now?
What do you think the chances of ever reading a negative story on them becomes if journalists have to pay even to ask basic questions?
This automatically creates a two-tier media environment.
One for titles which are willing to act like Pavlov’s slobbering dogs, and who will get treats and rewards for it, and another for those which won’t … and which will pay the consequences for that unwillingness.
If Ibrox sticks to its guns then there’s a chance that eventually other outlets will fall into line rather than be left behind by their rivals.
Those outlets which do play ball will, more and more, become nothing more than mouthpieces for the club.
I know a lot of our fans already believe that’s what some of them are.
Believe me, the current coverage bears no resemblence to that which we’ll get if the press becomes a fully-paid up nodding donkey for the second Ibrox operation.
If the press is willing to accept such an arrangement in the first place, if they are willing to abrogate their responsibilities to their readers and cravenly dance to Ibrox’s tune, there’s no longer even the pretence that we’re in a media landscape which lends equal scrutiny to every club.
Any outlets which accept this become what Ibrox calls them; “media partners” and no longer independent organisations.
The pressure for others to follow them will be immense.
What you have, from that moment on, then, is one club in Scotland effectively pulling the strings across the media landscape, having some form of control over the narrative surrounding them and their actions.
And in the meantime, every other club is subjected to the usual criticisms and barbs.
Furthermore, we can safely assume that events involving those clubs will be, also, in time be subjected to Ibrox’s preferred spin.
I mean, why would we believe otherwise?
In those circumstances, Celtic has two choices; to act “morally” and take the “high ground” or to make sure that we have equal influence and assert our own control.
And to be honest, that’s no choice at all.
In the event that we are forced to choose between allowing Ibrox that kind of influence, unfettered, or protecting our interests by doing likewise, then my recommendation would be that we stop thinking of this as a moral contest and starting thinking of it as a raw struggle for power in which we have to bend the media to our own will.
The current media climate is not kind to Celtic, but we can’t simply stand back and allow it to become even more toxic and nakedly biased.
The only way to prevent that is to do the same as Ibrox does, and charge the media for access and impose an identical set of restrictions on those willing to play the game.
To do otherwise is to blatantly allow the playing field to become ever more skewed against us and in favour of their club.
It is blatantly obvious that any outlet which agrees to this is acting in a fashion detrimental to any notion of good journalism, and the only way that individual outlets can be prevented from doing so is by pressure from within the media itself.
Because the moment one outlet does this the gates are breached, the barbarians are inside the walls.
Then, Celtic has to protect itself.
If the press wants to retain its independence this is when it has to act.
To do otherwise changes things forever, because all involved would have to realise that once clubs get away with this it’s a permanent feature of the football landscape in Scotland.
Furthermore, the press would have to understand that things will get progressively worse over time, that this is a slippery slope.
The fees of today can be increased tomorrow and even if there are no contractual clauses limiting what can be reported they can be, and certainly would be, included in future contracts and it’s only a matter of time before they are.
For the Scottish sporting press this is a fork in the road.
Once the first paper or broadcaster agrees to this then all changes, and changes utterly.
If they have a yard of guts, an ounce of self-respect or even simply any notion of their own self-interest, they have to tell Ibrox where to stick it, all of them, and they owe it to their readers and the wider industry to do it publicly.
This story is in the public domain now.
Any outlet which attends Ibrox next season will automatically be presumed to have paid unless they cut this down now.
The moment one agrees, Celtic must see that it’s in our interests to make its own demands and impose its own restrictions, because otherwise we’re simply victims in the PR war because we’re fighting with one hand tied behind our backs.