Call to Fifa bosses: let 'banned' reporter back in

As British football this week became further embroiled in corruption allegations prompted by BBC's Panorama programme, world football governing body Fifa has been urged to end its "ban" on British journalist Andrew Jennings and open itself to scrutiny.

Freelance Jennings (pictured) has been banned from all Fifa press conferences since making widespread allegations of corruption in the Daily Mail three years ago.

The charges were repeated in his book Foul! which claims to reveal "how soccer's leaders run rackets, pocket bribes, rig elections and tout World Cup tickets" and are further detailed on his website — transparencyinsport.org.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) this week urged Fifa to lead the way in ending "internal secrecy" in world sport by lifting the ban on Jennings.

Fifa has in turn defended its right to refuse to work with journalists who "oppose it".

Jennings, who has produced programmes for Panorama, Newsnight and World in Action, said: "I think I am banned because most journalists at Fifa press conferences spend their time saying: ‘Is it true you are even more wonderful than your press office says you are?', whereas I would say: ‘Is it true you are taking bribes?'

"They have never accused me of anything improper. I don't really care — it will all come out in the courts anyway."

Jennings told Press Gazette that despite his ban, he has yet to receive any legal action from Fifa officials collectively or individually.

He said: "For other reporters, a ban like this could be quite a problem — newsdesks want reporters who can go to these things. This ban keeps out critical voices.

"I think it is a disgusting policy and I would like to think some British journalists would even write about it — but they are too far up [Fifa president] Sep Blatter's arse."

In a letter sent to Fifa by the IFJ this week, general secretary Aidan White said: "The Jennings experience illustrates just how difficult life becomes for investigative journalists, when powerful institutions give the impression they are answerable to no one and beyond criticism.

"Public trust depends absolutely upon open and accountable government, and Fifa should be in the forefront of setting standards of transparency."

The IFJ says the case reflects a longrunning problem of institutional hostility faced by journalists investigating world sport.

White said of Jennings: "His trenchant and independent reporting has delivered some hard truths that, although unpalatable to some, contribute to an important public debate about the need for reform and change.

"The world of sport needs to become more aware of its public responsibilities and needs to outlaw internal secrecy.

Fifa can lead the way by ending this ban and by answering legitimate questions, no matter how difficult they may be, honestly and in full."

As well as the IFJ, European sport news journalists' conference Play the Game has demanded the lifting of the ban on Jennings.

In a response to Play the Game, Fifa said, as a private organisation, it is "not obliged to enter into discussions with, or answer to, journalists who oppose Fifa and seriously violate the principles of proper journalism."

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