Ulster Rugby clarifies decision to ban news reporters from team press conference

Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson.

Ulster Rugby has moved to clarify events around its decision to bar news reporters from the first team press conference since the sacking of rape acquitted stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

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

It is understood news reporters were excluded because too many questions about the fallout from Jackson and Olding's high-profile trial were asked at a previous pre-match press conference.

However, rugby writers were angered on Tuesday 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".

It is understood rugby reporters had voiced concern with club officials about how the previous press conference had unfolded, but they insist they had not called for a ban on news colleagues, rather a more structured format to ensure rugby matters were definitely covered.

After 11 rugby writers who cover Ulster on a regular basis wrote to the club to express concern about Tuesday's statement about the news media ban, Ulster Rugby issued a further statement on Friday.

It said: "While a formal consultation process with all rugby journalists in Ulster did not take place, Ulster Rugby did engage with several rugby writers, all of whom are in the number of 11 who have subsequently written to us, and all of whom raised concerns about the conduct of news journalists who had attended a recent press conference.

"The feedback from these conversations formed the basis of the action taken by Ulster Rugby, which was in the interests of delivering a meaningful, useful match-week press conference, as required by tournament organisers."

The 11 writers welcomed the new statement from Ulster.

"We welcome the acknowledgement that no regular attendees of press conferences undertook in a formal consultation process that resulted in fellow journalists being banned from a Kingspan Stadium press conference," they said in a joint statement.

"It was not a stance we would, or could, support."

Rob Herring.

Herring made the statement at a pre-match press conference ahead of the team's PRO14 match with Glasgow on Saturday.

Jackson and Olding were sacked last weekend 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.

- PA

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