BBC boycotts Rangers after football club imposes 'mystifying' bans on its reporter and Times columnist

A Times columnist is "mystified" by bans imposed on him and a BBC reporter by Rangers Football Club. (Picture: Reuters)

The club has told Graham Spiers, a columnist and broadcaster, and the BBC's Chris McLaughlin to stay away from its Ibrox home. It also banned the Daily Record earlier this year.

In response to the ban on McLaughlin – which was put in place after he led a match report on the news of supporters being arrested – the BBC has boycotted Ibrox. The broadcaster will continue to report on the club, but will not be sending journalists to matches or press conferences.

After going into liquidation in 2012, Rangers was demoted to the fourth tier of Scottish football. It has now made its way up to the second tier.

Spiers, who was a Rangers "beat reporter" until 2012, told Press Gazette that the club has become "very hostile and poisonous" in this time.

The Times and Herald newspaper columnist said he has not been told why he has been banned.

"I've been very critical of Rangers over the years – I think totally justifiably," he said. "There have been Rangers themes that have had to be addressed."

Spiers said he has written about "bigoted chanting" and "controversial stewardship" of the club in recent years and that this probably led to his ban.

But asked what specifically led to the club barring him, Spiers said: “Rangers have actually been very unclear about it.

"They never told me why, they’ve never explained to me why.

"I had one conversation with one Rangers director, who I phoned up when I heard about this ban, and he didn’t know what I was talking about.

"He’d just been away on his holidays, and he didn’t know I’d been banned.

"Then he got back to me two hours later and he gave me a slightly rambling… statement, or perspective, on why I had been banned. But he said to me: ‘As far as I know it’s for nothing recent.’"

Spiers told Press Gazette that, working primarily as a columnist, "it will hardly affect me at all".

He said: “I’ve tried to explain this to Rangers: the ban won’t affect me at all because my main work is writing columns and talking about football and expressing opinions.”

Since stopping work as a Rangers reporter three years ago, Spiers estimates that he has attended seven or eight matches. He added: “I suppose if there was any time to try and impose this ludicrous punishment on me, it would have been back then [2012] – but I’m hoping they can’t ban me from writing a column.”

Spiers added: “It’s had a very weird affect on me… It’s made me feel a little bit more compassionate towards Rangers.

"I don’t feel angry in the slightest. I actually feel a bit sorry for the club.

"The club’s had a tough time, and this ban, as absurd as it is, has actually had a weird affect on making me feel a little bit more compassionate towards the club.”

Rangers imposed its ban on McLaughlin following his report on Rangers' 6-2 Scottish Challenge Cup victory over Hibernian. Rangers was unhappy when it led on the news that "three arrests were made after sectarian singing".

The headline of the story was: "Arrests made at Hibernian v Rangers Challenge Cup match". And its first line said: "Rangers could be in trouble with the Scottish Professional Football League due to the behaviour of some of the club's fans during their win over Hibs."

McLaughlin was banned by the club as a result, and the BBC responded by saying it would no longer be sending staff to Ibrox.

Asked about the club's ban on the BBC, Spiers said: “I’m mystified by it."

He added: “I know Chris McLaughlin, and he’s a highly respected reporter within our industry and it’s mystifying to me…

"The perception is, I think, that Rangers think his reports are anti-Rangers and there’s this perception that the BBC has an anti-Rangers agenda – I think that’s what Rangers, and some very angry Rangers fans, are saying.

"I’ve spoken to people inside the BBC who are Rangers fans, and they’ve said to me… ‘I can’t fathom what they’re talking about – I’ve never seen any trace of bias against Rangers.’”

A Rangers spokesman told the Sunday Mail that the decision to ban McLaughlin "wasn't taken lightly".

They said: “The BBC don’t seem to be ­applying proper checks and rules within their sports department."

The spokesman added: “At the game you had police praising both sets of fans but he led on the fact Rangers could be in trouble because two people were arrested for ­alleged sectarian chants.”

A BBC spokesman told Press Gazette: "We believe [the ban] was unjustifiable and we stand by the integrity and the quality of our journalism. 

"We will continue to report on Rangers both on and off the pitch and will feature match action where appropriate but, until this issue is resolved, we will not be sending journalists to Ibrox or attending Rangers’ press conferences."

A number of other football clubs have recently banned journalists, including Swindon Town, Blackpool and Newcastle United.

The National Union of Journalists wrote to Football Association chairman Greg Dyke asking that he condemn the behaviour.

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