Northern Ireland news

Ulster Rugby continues ban of news journalists at press conferences

Only sports reporters were allowed to attend the press conference at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast last Tuesday
David Young, Press Association

Ulster Rugby is maintaining a ban on news reporters attending pre-match press conferences following the sacking of rape acquitted stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

Tuesday's event, which is traditionally open to all media, is again set to be confined to rugby writers as the club moves to limit questions about the fallout from the players' trial and subsequent dismissal.

Only sports reporters were allowed to attend the press conference at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast last Tuesday, when Ulster and Ireland hooker Rob Herring read a pre-prepared statement saying players were saddened by the duo's exit.

That ban looks like continuing on Tuesday, when the weekend PRO14 match against Munster will be previewed, with the Press Association having been told its news reporters will again be excluded.

News media have been barred because apparently too many questions about Jackson and Olding's high-profile trial were asked at the first press conference in the aftermath of their acquittal last month.

A spokesman for Ulster Rugby said: "Ulster Rugby is contractually obliged by tournament organisers to deliver a match-week press conference that provides sports journalists with an opportunity to interview a coach and players regarding that week's fixture.

"As previously stated, the conduct of news journalists at a recent press conference negatively impacted our ability to deliver a meaningful event that focused on rugby content.

"All media outlets are welcome to send staff who would regularly cover our press conferences and matches, as they have done in the past.

"News journalists interviewed Ulster Rugby's chief executive following the outcome of the post-trial review, in order to allow the coaches and players to focus on on-pitch matters."

Local rugby writers were angered last week when Ulster Rugby issued a statement saying the decision to restrict the media event to sports journalists was made "following consultation with regular press conference attendees".

The rugby reporters insisted they had not requested any ban on news counterparts attending.

It is understood they had voiced concern with club officials about how the previous press conference had unfolded, but they insist they only asked for a more structured format to ensure rugby matters were definitely covered.

Despite Friday's statement from the rugby writers, Ulster Rugby has maintained its stance to exclude news media outlets on Tuesday.

Jackson and Olding were sacked 10 days ago following an internal review into their conduct by their employers Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).

While Jackson (26) and Olding (25) were found not guilty of rape last month, other aspects of their behaviour had been heavily criticised, with major sponsors of Ulster Rugby having voiced concern.

The IRFU and Ulster Rugby review had focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations involving the players and their friends about the sexual encounter at the centre of the rape trial.

The messages, which referred to women in derogatory terms, were presented as evidence during the marathon nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

Jackson and Olding had been accused of raping the same woman at a party at Jackson's home in June 2016.

Last month, a jury of eight men and three women found the players unanimously not guilty of rape after deliberating for three hours and 45 minutes.

All jurors also acquitted Jackson of sexual assault.

Two other men, Blane McIlroy (26) and Rory Harrison (25) were also unanimously acquitted of lesser charges connected to the case.

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