By Mike Long (@boltfromtheblu)
A well-publicised report at The New York Times on Monday (13/05/19) by journalist Tariq Panja claimed in advance of any official announcement by UEFA that with regard to Manchester City, the governing body:
“…is expected to recommend that the team be barred from the Champions League, European soccer’s richest competition and the trophy the club covets most.”
So how could Panja confidently predict this FOUR days in advance of the UEFA meeting and what was the likely motivation in breaking this “story”?
Of course journalists are skilled in the art of hedging. Phrases such as “X is understood to be the case”; “An unnamed source has claimed…” or “This publication understands…”
However according to CNN, investigators from UEFA’s governing body only met on Thursday when UEFA confirmed Chief Investigator Yves Leterme had submitted his recommendation that the case be passed from the lower investigatory committee to the higher adjudicatory committee which has the power to impose sanctions such as a ban from European competitions.
And yet following the NYT article, media outlets with very few exceptions jumped to the conclusion that City would receive the ultimate sanction of a ban and began to report this as if it were a foregone conclusion. The thirst for blood was all too apparent. Examples include the following:
Man City ban imminent as Uefa confirm investigation into potential FFP breaches has concluded (The Telegraph 16/05)
“Uefa investigators want Manchester City to be banned from the Champions League for a season if they are found guilty of breaking financial rules”. (Dan Roan, BBC 14/05)
Petros Mavroidis, a member of UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body Investigatory Chamber, told CNN Sport he was surprised by the information contained in the NYT report because no final decision had been made. Furthermore, UEFA told CNN that they “do not comment on ongoing investigations regarding financial fair play matters.”
The evidence is mounting that news outlets are increasingly prepared to pre-empt any discussions by UEFA’s adjudicatory committee on Leterme’s recommendation. They seek to convince readers that the severest penalty WILL (not may) be imposed. The rush to judgement is stunning and yet depressingly predictable.
From the unveiling back in November of stolen documents passed to the German publication Der Spiegel which City has always claimed were hacked and then pieced together out of context, the sheer glee with which large sections of the press set aside any need for forensic professional investigation and circumspection has been breath-taking. Listening to any random episode of the popular Transfer Window Podcast makes this clear.
In considering whether particular allegations of financial impropriety are likely to be true, even a student journalist knows that it is incumbent upon reporters to consider what the accusers have to gain, especially when the allegations have almost entirely focused on one side of the story.
And there is another side to this story.
After largely refusing to comment on the allegations hitherto, it would appear that Manchester City have had just about enough of all the myopia.
The club’s recent statement is revealing. The key elements of this statement are outlined below. Statements of this nature are not thrown together by hacks. They are reviewed carefully by legal experts since once they enter the public arena they cannot be taken back. They need to be carefully substantiated and effectively watertight since they will be cited hundreds of times and possibly taken into account in any future proceedings and/or potential litigation.
From the statement we note the following:
Manchester City Football Club is disappointed, but regrettably not surprised, by the sudden announcement of the referral to be made by the CFCB IC Chief Investigator Yves Leterme.
“The CFCB IC referral ignores a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence provided by Manchester City FC to the Chamber.”
“The decision contains mistakes, misinterpretations and confusions fundamentally borne out of a basic lack of due process.”
“There remain significant unresolved matters raised by Manchester City FC as part of what the Club has found to be a wholly unsatisfactory, curtailed, and hostile process.”
“Manchester City is entirely confident of a positive outcome when the matter is considered by an independent judicial body.”
One obvious interpretation of the above seems to be that City believe Leterme has been rushed into his decision, has failed to properly assess the evidence and that the UEFA governing body is far from independent.
These are strong claims. However will each of these be examined by the press to ascertain whether they are in fact a reasonable summary of the background to the decision?
We wait with baited breath.
My personal view is that British journalistic standards as evidenced in the UEFA v Manchester City FC case have declined to an all-time low, and this time it is not only the tabloid press who are culpable in this regard.
The press surely has the responsibility to weigh up the merits of the case put forward by both parties – and not simply a mere nod to the fact that one of the parties does indeed have a case.
It seems clear that there are very few contemporary investigative reporters with the requisite financial expertise to handle City’s side of the argument. Either that, or there is a patronising assumption that such an endeavour would place a heavier burden on the average reader’s patience with statistics than he or she could reasonably be expected to bear in one sitting.
I believe a great disservice has been done to the public by such sophomoric reporting.
The content of this piece constitutes the personal opinions of BoltFromTheBlue and in no way represent the views of Manchester City FC or any other individual.