If these real-life times haven’t taught us the importance of a free press, we don’t know when they will.
That can apply to sports, too, as we are learning with the NHL’s recent decision to bar independent media from covering the Stanley Cup playoffs in Toronto and Edmonton.
It’s understood personnel must be extremely limited at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and Rogers Place in Edmonton because of the pandemic.
But turning down a request from the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association for a limited number of credentials – especially in light of allowing three NHL.com writers (paid by the league) entry to the games – the NHL is setting a dangerous precedent.
While league officials swear things will “get back to normal,’’ when they get normal (and there are no guarantees they will any time soon), some see this as a threat to future coverage and free access to players for interviews down the road.
Perhaps foremost, PHWA executives have pointed out the so-called partnership between the league and the writers who cover it really doesn’t exist.
And for you, as a hockey fan, that should send up a number of red flags.
While the media can use modern technology such as Zoom to conduct interviews and watch (in a limited scope) games at home on television, any scribe will tell you it just isn’t the same. There are too many limitations to list but it’s safe to say not being in a hockey arena really changes the game.
All the PHWA appears to be asking for is treatment similar to what the NBA is offering its independent media in Orlando, namely bubble inclusion for a limited number of reporters.
In this case, the PHWA’s request was for three writers, to simply match the number included for NHL.com. That request was flatly denied.
From our perspective, it looks like the NHL only wants fans to read, see and hear content that is league approved.
Sounds like something straight out of a third-world country, don’t you think?
Media censorship in any form has no place in an open society. That’s why in these unsettled political times, readership in news outlets around the country is at an all-time high.
If we have this straight, not even reporters from wire services such as the Associated Press will be in attendance. Who is going to produce written accounts of the games? Who will provide analysis? Oh, we guess you could go to the NHL.com website, if you wanted a filtered version of the Flyers-Boston game on Aug. 2. But is that going to give you the hard, unbiased facts of the game from someone who’s been covering the team day-in, day-out for years?
So as far as a partnership between the NHL and writers who cover the sport, it seems like a bit of a one-sided relationship.
Writers promote the heck out of league and individual team charity events (i.e. Flyers Wives Carnival), vote for league awards and basically advertise their star players on a nightly basis.
In return, it’s mandates from the league such as limiting health reports to “upper body’’ and “lower body’’ injuries.
Restricting coverage at the most crucial time in a hockey season will deny hundreds of participating players and millions of fans unfiltered on-site reporting on a return that encompasses everything from professional hockey, taxpayers’ interests and in this case, public health.
If this limited-media experiment works out favorably in the NHL’s eyes, what’s to prevent it from bringing the whole thing back late this fall when the 2020-21 season begins? Faced with empty arenas again due to the pandemic, there’s a built-in excuse.
MLB, the NBA and the NFL are bending over backward to make sure their media get a fair shake. Why does the NHL, a league starving for exposure for decades, choose to be different?
Here’s our takeaway: Without a functional relationship between the league and the media which covers it, there is no reason for hockey fans to believe the NHL wants for them what other leagues provide to their supporters: Stories as told by a free and independent press.