News Ltd: Bias, what bias!

The Socceroos have just qualified for their second straight World Cup, Australia has launched a bold bid for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup and the fifth A-League starting shortly is preparing to welcome two new teams.

Yet the overall mood of the fans at large is not as exhilarating as it should be. A lingering degree of anger and sense of injustice lie just beneath the surface.

The reason for this despondence is that the game has received a bit of a hammering from sections of the media in the last few weeks.

Whether it’s the Socceroos’ style of play, the controversial attitude of national coach Pim Verbeek, the standard of the A-League or now the Tim Cahill Case, football has had to endure a constant, vitriolic attack from the media.

News Limited, as publisher of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph, has been in the forefront of this and not surprisingly has come in for plenty of criticism for its perceived bias against the game.

Many fans believe that the “two Teles” are the founder members of Australia’s anti-football “mafia”.

But are they right? Executive sports editor Phil Rothfield kindly accepted our invitation to defend the two papers in a frank “question and answer”.

TWG: Football has made great strides forward the last few years in its bid to rid itself of its dark past. What’s your view of the game’s image and its position in Australian sport’s landscape?

PR: “The game has made unbelievable progress since the last World Cup. They’ve launched the A-League which is a very good competition for what it is. I’ve been to a couple of games and I’ve enjoyed the family atmosphere. The game has done very well but I still think there are a lot of problems behind the scenes that a few people in soccer are not prepared to address.”

TWG: There is a perception among football fans that News Limited, particularly The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph, has an agenda against football because it is not in the interest of the organisation that football keeps rising in this country. What do you say to that?

PR: “I deny an agenda against the game at all. If you see Saturday’s paper, Andrew Webster went down to see Frank Lowy and wrote a positive piece in a double page spread about the FFA chairman’s passion and hopes of delivering the World Cup to Australia. I have known Ben Buckley for a long of time and I speak to him probably three, four times a year. I presume you are referring to the Tim Cahill story when you suggest we have an agenda against soccer.”

No, not at all, the Cahill story is only one of many over the years.

“I honestly believe the Cahill affair has been a cover-up from the FFA. We spoke to the head of security at the Trademark Hotel that night who confirmed that there was a very serious incident there. Look, we are not here to look after the public relations of any sport. There is one problem I do have with soccer in Australia. I believe many soccer writers in this country see themselves as the guardian angels of the game. They are very reluctant to tackle officials when there are problems.”

TWG: But the whole gist of the story is based on the claims of an unnamed witness and bouncer. Both allegations have been blown out of the water by the night club’s management.

PR: “I don’t know about the story being blown out of the water. I’ve had several calls from people who are in the know who claim that staff were threatened at the night club. And to be honest I think the night club has covered it up and so has the FFA. This guy who has been a head of security at Kings Cross for many years is not going to make up the story. The headlines about the whole thing are not what football fans want to read every day. Look at the scrutiny rugby league and cricket players are under. When we sign up to be journalists we have a responsibility to search for the truth and tell the full story to the best of our ability and not just write about Tim Cahill scoring two goals. That’s all we’re doing.”

TWG: Yes, but The Daily Telegraph had a heading to a story saying “Cahill banned from club” on the basis that the bouncer merely said he was not welcome at the club. That’s hardly being banned, is it.

PR: “Look, I’ve checked this with the head of security. His name is Dave Millward. They told me Cahill would not be welcome as long as his bouncers were at the door. He would not get past the door if this guy is on duty.”

TWG: So why was this not written into the story?

PR: “Well, it’s the same thing, isn’t it ... being unwelcome and being banned.”

TWG: Not really.

PR: “Well, I read it as being banned.”

TWG: Football people get a very good coverage from Fox, SBS and Fairfax. Why would any football fan buy the Telegraph, whose coverage of the game is at best unsatisfactory?

PR: “I genuinely believe that we have the best soccer coverage of the main newspapers in Australia. Just because we don’t publish what the FFA wants us to print all the time doesn’t mean our coverage is unsatisfactory . The most passionate of fans might agree with what you’re saying but I can assure you that the general public - and I’m not here just to put out a paper for soccer fans - gets a fair coverage of the game. Last year we had three soccer writers and you’ve done a bit of work for us too.”

TWG: Yes, but for all the space you give football, one cadet journalist would have been enough, wouldn’t it?

PR: “No, I disagree with that. By the way you keep referring to the game as ‘football’. Why are the Socceroos not called ‘Footballroos’ then!”

TWG: Very simple, mate. The Socceroos are a brand and you don’t change the names of brands.

PR: “But don’t you think that for most people in Sydney going to the football means going to the rugby league.”

TWG: Probably. But other organisations do not run into problems referring to “soccer” as football. Anyway, newspapers are doing it tough at the moment. In this present economic climate is it wise for News Ltd to alienate itself from many football followers by its perceived biased coverage of the game?

PR: “Look, for a start I do not work for a newspaper. I work for a news organisation which is equally internet and newspapers. We are the fastest growing sports website in the country. In sport we break more stories on our website than any other organisation. Yes, newspapers are struggling a little bit but we do not deliberately try to upset soccer fans. We just do our best to provide a level coverage of the game. When Sydney FC and Newcastle won the league title we celebrated their success with them and we are strongly behind Central Coast, too. Yet all the football people do is hammer us for the negative stories we write. We are entitled to run those stories. I could just do without some of the death threats from the lunatics.”

TWG: But you cannot deny that the perception exists that News Ltd is anti-football. You guys have an image problem.

PR: “We probably do have a problem with our image among soccer fans. But how can we not highlight the unattractive brand of football the Socceroos are playing, for example.”

TWG: So can we expect a decent coverage of the World Cup next year?

PR: “Our coverage will be bigger and better than last time. Obviously the space we will throw at it will be determined by advertising support. Nobody supported the A-League when it started as we did. We had an eight-page liftout and had the full backing of the FFA. The Sydney Morning Herald throws a lot of space at rugby union because they get a lot of money from rugby advertising, we give rugby league plenty of space because we get a lot of money from rugby league advertising. If we get the same level of support during the World Cup we’ll do the same with soccer. It’s a magnificent event, probably equal to the Olympic Games. We’ll do special editions and our website updating stories 24/7.”



News Limited, as publisher of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph, has been in the forefront of this and not surprisingly has come in for plenty of criticism for its perceived bias against the game.

Many fans believe that the “two Teles” are the founder members of Australia’s anti-football “mafia”.