Media relations should be on AFC’s watch in its much-feared General Assessment Report wherein the Asian Football Confederation imposes a raft of measures on admission to the Asian Champions League, judging member federations on a bunch of criteria.
An AFC member federation that earns a high score gets more spots and a Golden Wonka ticket to the potential riches of the ACL. A member federation that scores poorly is told to go back and get its house in order before coming back to try all over again.
Governance/soundness, technical standard, attendance, organisation, marketing/promotion, business scale, game operation, stadia… the AFC’s checklist is a comprehensive one.
Media is another factor on which federations are judged, but you would really have to question why the AFC even bothers with such ratings when it doesn’t take into account how a relevant federation actually gets on with journalists that come under its purview.
Are the journalists who write the stories that fill the daily newspapers or film the segments that go to air on local television actually asked by the AFC how they feel about the federations they deal with every working day?
Are they asked by the AFC whether they feel they are allowed to do their jobs in an environment of editorial independence where free speech is enshrined and where difference of opinion is respected?
Of course not. But they should be. Especially given the AFC is a confederation that aspires to European-style credibility at football’s high table.
In Australia, the peak body for football journalists, Football Media Association Australia, has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with Football Federation Australia over a complaint that was made in August 2011 to the FMA by two senior journalists with a broadcaster over their alleged treatment by the national body.
Their opinions ran foul of those running the game, prompting, in the words of the FMA, “unfavourable comments and suggestions” to allegedly be made by the FFA “to news organisations and to FIFA… in light of their reporting and commentary of football matters”.
Or in other words FFA allegedly put pressure on their employers and even to straight to the top, to world body FIFA, to get them to change their tune.
The FMA’s language was kept deliberately vague in its official “please explain” to FFA because it had to be to protect the privacy of the two individuals involved.
The FFA, for its part, was given plenty of time to respond. But it did not. At all. Which left one of the FMA delegates speechless: “In 25 years I had not ever seen this level of disrespect for the most basic tenets of etiquette and corporate governance principles.”
So two weeks ago the FMA wrote to the FFA again. But not about the old complaint. With a new one. This time charging the FFA’s own chief executive, Ben Buckley, and press attack dog, Kyle Patterson, with “inappropriate and offensive communications” with two senior newspaper journalists.
“FMA is concerned that, on the basis of the information to hand, such communications are made with the purpose of attempting to interfere with, and influence, the reporting of matters affecting the game in general and the FFA in particular.
“FMA is of the view that contacting media proprietors and senior media executives to complain about the reporting of certain issues as raised by journalists is inappropriate for a sport federation in general and the chief executive officer of a football federation in particular. Such conduct can only be interpreted as an attempt to muzzle further reporting by those journalists in the future.”
How did the FFA respond? Nothing. More radio silence.
Why? Essentially because the FFA picks and chooses the journalists to whom it gives precious “access” with the implicit return of favourable coverage, intimidates those who don’t sing from its hymn book and does its best to squeeze out of the game those it regards as a clear and present danger to its “brand”. I was one of them. My columns for SBS frequently raised the ire of FFA management.
As one horrified FFA insider put it to me this week: “Media is not an extension of the PR arm. In the long run, media is doing the sport a disservice if they don’t ask the right and sometimes tough questions.”
Agreed. So here’s another one to you, FFA. Why aren’t you responding to the FMA?
I’m sure the AFC, as your master and the custodian of this great game in Asia, would love to hear why the next host of the Asian Cup holds its own journalists in such contempt.
Because when it comes to relations with its own media, Australia has outrageously failed.
This column was originally published by ESPN STAR Sports. Please check for new columns by me every Thursday at www.espnstar.com. Love to see you there.