Tuesday, February 16, 2021

By Denis J. Croke

APPARENTLY, Laois County Board in their wisdom have taken the decision to hold their meetings ‘in camera’. For as long as I can remember, full County Board meetings which are attended by delegates from all the clubs in the county, have been open to the media, but that now seems to be a thing of the past.

Transparency how are you!

And before some one at the top table of Laois GAA points out that I have not attended a County Board meeting in many years, let me explain. These meetings are held on a Monday night and with newspapers now publishing on a Monday night, this posed a problem.

What would be the point in attending a meeting on a Monday night when reports from said meeting would not be published until a week later by which time even the dogs on the street would have them discussed?

At that time I put a proposal to some of the Laois executive that they might consider changing the meetings to another night, that way they would get far more publicity. Obviously my request fell on deaf ears.

However, back to the present.

It is not known exactly why Laois GAA have taken this decision although there has been some speculation that it may relate to Eddie Brennan’s interview with Joe.ie GAA Hour after which off the record comments were inadvertently broadcast.

Are we, the local media, supposed to be appreciative of the County Board’s proposal to provide us with updates/information after the meetings?

Let’s state quite categorically that this is not acceptable. I believe I am speaking on behalf of all local media when I say that we are not your public relations company, we are independent news providers and we will not publish what the County Board deems appropriate.

The Laois Executive took the decision to go ‘in camera’ at a meeting in late December. But it should be pointed out that last year’s annual convention, which was held remotely in mid-December was not open to the media on the pretence that space on the virtual call was limited.

LaoisToday are believed to have written to Laois GAA in January asking that the decision be re-considered. That request was discussed at a recent executive meeting but with no change to the plan.

It should be pointed out that not all counties allow the media to attend their meetings but they are in the minority.

It has also been said that Laois GAA executive will “explore use of Laois GAA TV for exclusive announcement of Laois GAA teams, player and management interviews and that internal press could take their lead stories from this production”.

They’ve got to be joking. This is as bad as China or Russia where we are supposed to get our information from the State news agencies.

And what about interviewing managers or players for match previews or post-match? It seems that we might be allowed to talk to them but only if journalists/event organisers send brief on questions/requirements at least 24 hours prior to any interview taking place.

It is hardly surprising that local media outlets are up in arms since the news broke. The Laois Media WhatsApp group, which was ironically set up by the County Board PRO to keep journalists up to day with developments, was ablaze with comments.

The ranged from ‘can’t support any idea of the local media taking snippets from interviews conducted by the county board’ to ‘internal press can take their lead stories from this production. Soccer, rugby etc will be delighted with the extra coverage’, to just a simple ‘Unbelievable!’

Then there was the tongue in cheek comment, ‘That means we don’t have to attend/travel to any matches. We can all sit at home in front of the fire with a hot toddy and watch Laois TV. Oh! What happens when the link breaks down?’

So let’s have a look at what is now supposed to happen.

What does the County Board think the local media are here for – to act as their public relations outfit, providing only good news of course?

This is the most absurd decision made at County Board level in the quarter of a century I have been reporting on GAA matters in Laois. Maybe we should stand back and let the ‘authorities’ provide the copy and information from all games saving the media the hassle of turning out in all sorts of weather and conditions to promote our national games.

You will have the innate GAA men who will say that the GAA sells newspapers, and that it does, none of us will deny that. But will you tell me how much it would cost the GAA to buy the space in newspaper that is given over to our national games on a daily and weekly basis. Money couldn’t buy it.

The problem is this truth does not seem to have permeated down through upper echelons of the County Board.

I will finish off with one exchange I had with a County Board officer back in the early part of the new Millennium.

Following one County Board meeting after which I had written a piece that was deemed unnecessarily critical by the said officer, he phoned me and challenged me about it.

When I pointed out that it was all true, that there were no inaccuracies and that if he could find any I would give him a front page retraction the following week.

His replay was classical: “There was nothing wrong with it, but you just shouldn’t have written it.”

It seems not much has changed in the intervening years.

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