Niklas Bendtner’s pants, worse than racist chanting!

European football governing body UEFA handed out today an €80,000 Euro fine to Croatia for racist chanting by it’s fans during the country’s game against Italy during #Euro2012The fine was €20,000 Euro less than that imposed the day before on Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner for, er, wearing underpants promoting Irish gambling company PaddyPower.

While it is obvious that UEFA do not care about their reputation or that of the game that they claim to represent, such a decision continues to leave a big question about their commitment towards ending racism within the game.

UEFA’s inability to understand the issue and unwillingness to tackle racism casts a cloud over the sponsors that are supporting this #Euro2012 football tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

If this impotent governing body is not willing to tackle racism, then surely what is left to do is to follow the money and challenge UEFA’s paymasters to exert their influence so that this scourge can be got rid off.

When a sponsors reputation is called into question you see a reaction that is quick and decisive.  In business, reputation matters.  Governing bodies, with their monopolistic thinking, meanwhile believe that they are immune to negative exposure.  I am sure that UEFA has cleaner ears for those with the money, than those with the ‘monkey chants.’

England’s Football Association gave us a lesson this week on how not to secure change within FIFA to rid it of the ‘alleged’ <cough!> corruption.

For too long FIFA has been a self-serving and inefficient organisation.  Like many international governing bodies it’s executive committee has become distant from the supporters who actually and in this case own the game.  For FIFA football is all about the business – getting and securing the best sponsorship and trickling these deals down into local associations, many of which are run on a shoestring.  That said and as has been reported those who sit on the top table of this once venerable organisation have become unconnected with the people who play this sport.

The politics of sport is ugly and ruthless.  But let’s be objective, FIFA has 208 national member associations – more than any other international governing body.  The UN itself has 192 states as members.  These national member associations represent the world and it’s various and diverse cultures.  What is acceptable in some of these countries would be deemed unacceptable in western democracies.  But equally, some of the West’s own behaviours would be deemed wrong in many of the states that are represented within the FIFA family.  That still is no excuse for much of the activity that has become endemic within this broken organisation.

All this doesn’t excuse the moralising of the UK press towards how FIFA operate.  If you read the media from around the world you would be forgiven for thinking that it is all above board.  In fact, read Spain’s sports daily Marca or As or any other title from South America or Africa and the only quotes about the alleged corruption come from local titles that quote the stings made by The Times and Sunday Times.  Moralising in my opinion doesn’t help with change.

To coincide the publishing of stories about corruption to days before the voting for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup was short-sighted by UK newsdesks.  Yet ask UK journalists and you’ll get an answer about public interest.  Really?  Is it better to run a story before the voting or possibly just after?  Would news outlets have got better stories in the lead-up to an English World Cup?  All very odd.  I’ve had conversations with a few journalists who’s view is that they should be independent and I agree.  But the question from a public relations perspective is how you secure change?  Are some outlets chasing numbers rather than using their skills to enable better transparency?

Public relations can be a force for good.  Sure, many people see this profession as one that focuses on spin and misinformation.  But, in countries such as the UK, with a good relationship with media outlets PR could work in harmony to achieve the change that is required within FIFA.

So as we approached this week’s FIFA’s 61st Congress we noted the media and the English FA once again making a stand for what they thought was right.  It was a question in my opinion of preaching and not teaching.  What they did was get it very wrong, to the extent that their behaviour possibly helped Blatter secure a fourth term in office.

The public relations campaign activity by The FA leaves a lot to be desired.  Fit for purpose?  I leave you readers to decide.

There used to be days when Britain was good at understanding the world, at doing deals and assisting and promoting best practice.  FIFA needs to change, but so does The FA, who is in grave danger of becoming irrelevant to the football family.

House of Lords member Lord Stoneham of Droxford yesterday used Parliamentary Privilege to make public details of an #injunction that former #RBS Chief Executive Sir Fred Goodwin had on the story that he was involved in an extra-marital affair while the bank was collapsing in front of him.

The comments were made in the Chamber at the Palace of Westminster hours before legal teams met at the High Court to discuss said gagging order, with one party seeking to have it overturned.  Sir Fred himself did not object to the removal of the injunction, which enables the media to run with a story that will put plenty of heat on him once again.

Injunctions and super-injunctions have been making the headlines recently because media outlets have been unable to report on the more salacious stories that are doing the rounds about high-profile personalities.  The pub gossip that people take part is censured.  Some people criticise the judiciary, claiming that it undermines the press.  Others believe that Privacy is a basic human right that requires individual mistakes to not be splashed in the press.

My view is that the press and the individuals using these injunctions and super-injunctions are right.  The problem is that in between both arguments lies what is known as public interest, a term used by the media as a ‘catch-all.’  With this self-regulated tool, the media can invade the privacy of anybody and any organisation.  And there lies the problem.  Organisations need to be accountable, as do the people working for them and for government.  That said, there is a fine line that divides a mistake from the effect it has on an organisation.

The law has always been a tool in the public relations armoury.  Reputation management has used the law to gag a story from being discussed in the media, very much under the impression that if the media is not able to run the story then nobody will know the issues that can be damaging to their clients reputations and trust.  This is naïve, stupid and out dated.  Public relations is rarely able to repair the damage that requires this kind of force.

Yes, there is a need for Privacy and there is a need for injunctions and super-injunctions.  The question is, should they be made available and affordable to everyone?  Yes.  Should there be further debate on which applications receive one?  Yes.  Duplicity and double-standard needs to be outted.  From a public relations perspective, reputation management is always harder when the damage has been done, even though said damage is not yet in the public arena.

How many times have we as PR professionals held our head in our hands wandering how we can repair the damage by some ill-conceived decision or action?

The current debate about injunctions and super-injunctions is of course in the media because details of many of these have been outted to social networking sites.  The fact is that we live in a less media centric world where consumers of news can obtain gossip and stories online.  It is this that smashes the legal structure and protection that the law affords to individuals to protect, rightly or wrongly, the privacy and reputation.  But this in itself is a misnomer, because sites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are based overseas in jurisdictions with firm legal structures.

Social and search sites can be notified and given due time to remove content that libels clients.  But this course this course of action to protect one’s soiled reputation carries it’s own risk – reputation is about trust and trust is won and lost in the court of public opinion.  It is the members of this court – you and I, that gathers information and consumes it.  The fact is that we live in a world where there is less control, which is why PR should learn this and work within the new structure that social networking has created.

I have given presentations to a series of law firms, highlighting how social media and it’s central pillar of information sharing, which happens cross jurisdictions can undermine their work.  The skills and ability to share information without leaving a trace is there.  The internet is a channel that crosses geographical boundaries.  There is concern that such tactics are being used within journalism to undermine the case for privacy.  It is a case of cat and mouse, and at the moment the media is the mouse the law is the old lethargic cat.

Social media has become a tool that can undermine law and if not undermine then push it into the 21st century.  For many the law is just a form of censorship that prevents free speech and public interest.  In fact a well-known blog has made available a Google Document listing all the supposed injunctions that currently exist.  Today it is a question of if you search you will find.

Reputations today are being saved and more importantly destroyed by our own human willingness to engage in hearsay and gossip.  Individuals, companies and brands spend a lot on projecting an image that attracts business.  They should be protected, but only if the actions for which they seek an injunction or super injunction are not duplicitous.

Reputation management is today a skill amongst public relations practitioners that requires real-time management.  Controlling a crowd is nigh on impossible.  Once the damage is done an injunction will only act as a plaster.

PRs have to work not just with the legal court, but importantly the court of public opinion, a court that is a well briefed by content that is available online.

BREAKING NEWS:

It appears that a UK Premier League player has started legal proceedings against Twitter to secure the disclosure of the currently ‘unknown persons’.  Legal firm Schillings said in a statement, “to obtain limited information concerning the unlawful use of Twitter by a small number of individuals who may have breached a court order.”

We assume that such action will be taken by a partner law firm in California, though given that the unlawful act has taken place in the UK, a separate legal jurisdiction, it is going to be tricky to see how this works.  Of course, if those people who started the allegations are in the UK then they will not be eligible to America’s Constitution First Amendment, which allows free speech.

Comments by Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys and pundit Andy Gray about assistant referee Sian Massey and West Ham Deputy Chairwoman Karen Brady this weekend highlight the problem that football in the UK has.  Their off-air sexist remarks highlight outdated and out of touch views in the The Premier League, Championship and lower divisions.  Dealing with them, will help give UK football a much needed rebrand.

Keys and Gray have been the leading commentators on Sky Sports since the channel’s inception in 1992.  The game though has moved on since then.  It’s become far more athletic and its audience has been more diverse, with many more women watching the game, if not on TV then at their chosen grounds.  Yet for too long we have heard the views of these two out of touch pundits on how a physical presence is needed in games where fast flowing and thinking football is played.

Sadly though Sky Sports hasn’t kept apace with the changes in the game and in their audience and that has damaged how game it funds is perceived not just overseas, but by sponsors and advertisers that swell the channel’s own coffers.  Would advertisers pay for slots on Sky Sports when the way they present the game is outdated?

Keys and Gray have permeated views and made acceptable views that have not helped the English game develop.  They are out of touch and certainly off-side.

Of course questions have to be asked as to how these recordings came to light, but it certainly looks like they were leaked.  And this can only be a good thing.

Gordon Brown learned the hard way about how you are ‘always on air when mic’d up.’  And of course Richard Keys has previous for foot-in-mouth.  Being in the media and being ‘outted’ to the pack must hurt, but it’s about time that Sky Sports does its job in presenting the game as one for all and not just for men.

Keys and Gray are not just one of the problems in how the game of football is perceived.  New pundits that know about the modern game will help Sky resolve this PR nightmare that it finds itself in.  Who knows, maybe washing your dirty laundry in public can be a good thing for Sky Sports and for the game.

***BREAKING NEWS***

This story is developing.  Within hours of posting Sky Sports sack their Chief Pundit Andy Gray for comments he is alleged to have made in December while recording a Christmas special, which a dutiful PR has just leaked onto Youtube.  Goodbye.  See below:

Fifa vice-president Jack Warner branded the BBC “unpatriotic” for deciding to screen an investigation into the football governing body so close to the vote on 3 December which would decide the host of the 2018 World Cup.

Regardless of what the sports and football world might think of Mr Warner, we have to question the thinking and rational for not just the BBC’s Panorama programme, which was screened last night, but the Sunday Times expose a few weeks back.  These two media outlets claimed that their investigations were in the ‘public interest’, but the timing of their broadcast couldn’t have been anything other than fatal.  Unpatriotic, as Mr Warner said might not be that wide of the mark.

Since news broke of what these two outlets were doing the Football Association has been scrambling to still be in with a chance to host the 2018 World Cup.  It’s pushed forward its power players to rally the nation into showing strength in unity.  England’s World Cup 2018 bid international president David Dein called for the nation and by default the media, to get behind the bid.  Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince William will both be in Zurich on Thursday supporting the bid.  But this might just be the public face for a bid that is actually intended to change Fifa rather than secure the World Cup.

I am not for one minute arguing for investigative journalism to be gagged.  Nor am I condoning the culture of favour that exists within Fifa, an organisation that promotes Fair Play on the pitch, but ignores it in the boardroom.  Let’s be honest, are these investigations really in the public interest, this being common well-being?  Such a claim is more of a catch-all.

There are three sides to every story – two sides and the truth.

The big question is about the communications expertise that exists within England’s bid.  Did England’s bid team have the necessary power to work with the media?  Was it able to influence the timing of such and much needed investigation?  Could the media’s work help in England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup?  Or did England just know that it didn’t stand a chance, which is why it embarked on a campaign to reform Fifa.

We will be anticipating with anguish the results of Fifa’s Executive Committee’s vote on Thursday.  The bid’s Facebook page has support from people from over 170 countries!