Closed Shop Media

Last Monday saw the “prestigious” Derby Awards in London or as it is better known the Horserace Writers’ and Photographers’ (HWPA) annual piss-up.

 

Great importance is attached to the awards, mainly by the HWPA themselves, as well as the Racing Post, as long as they have someone nominated for the journalistic awards, which of course they always do as there are invariably Racing Post staff on the committee who select the short list.


What many outside the sport may not realise is nominations for the journalist of the year award are restricted to HWPA members, so if a journalist is not an HWPA member, no matter how good they are, they will not be eligible for the top award. So it is a moot point as to how prestigious the award actually is.


But who is to begrudge the HWPA their moment in the limelight.


I did have to have a wry smile to myself last Monday when the "owner of the year" was announced. I’m sure it is just coincidence the winner also happens to be the new sponsor of the Derby Awards, a sponsor who stepped in at the last minute when it looked as though the 2013 jamboree was going to be sponsorless.


Bearing in mind who the new sponsors are, a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality is to be expected. It will be interesting to see if the new sponsorship deal bites the HWPA on the bum or maybe, which I strongly suspect, the new sponsors are hoping for an easy ride from the racing media as a result of their sponsorship.


Seeing reports in some sections of the media and looking at some ongoing shenanigans in the high court, as well as some further pending criminal cases, it looks as though the new sponsors may need all the positive media support they get.


Those of you with long memories will recall the press generally used to be very much a closed shop.

It was only when the likes of Eddie Shah and Rupert Murdoch decided to take on the unions that the closed shop mentality, thankfully, began to disappear.


It is therefore somewhat incongruous that in the racing media there is still, effectively, a closed shop.

True anybody can report on the sport but if you want to be an accredited racing journalist you have to be approved by a committee.


Who sits on this committee?


Well ostensibly it is run under the auspice of the Racecourse Association (RCA) but the committee is effectively the twelve man / woman committee of the HWPA with a couple of RCA reps sitting on the committee as well. The RCA do have the final say but it is the HWPA committee who have a major say.


Why should the HWPA have such a major say?


In what other industry do fellow workers pick and choose who works with them?


OK as representatives of the racing media let the HWPA have one person on the committee but they should not be the major decision makers.


Also the criteria for granting accreditation is vague. Yes guidelines are issued but are sufficiently vague and with sufficient loopholes to make them almost meaningless.


Contrast the guidelines for gaining accreditation for horse racing with those for gaining accreditation for the Premier or Football Leagues, they are incomparable. The football guidelines are clear and unambiguous.


For a start you actually have to be a journalist to be accredited for football coverage, that is not a requirement for horse racing.


Ironically I was accused of not being a proper journalist by someone recently, even though I hold a UK Press Card (one of the  requirements to be an accredited football journalist) and am a member of a professional journalistic institute which only allow qualified journalists to join. What made the comment all the more ironic is I’m pretty certain the person who made the comment doesn’t have a journalistic qualification themselves and has never had any journalistic training, yet they think they have a right to be in a press room when their job doesn’t actually require they have any access at all.


It’s also become apparent in recent years that racing is failing to fully embrace the new media, indeed they are looking to positively discriminate against it but that is no surprise when you consider most of the HWPA committee work in the traditional areas of the media.


Is it little wonder that the racing media are accused of being too cosy and not inclined to be critical.


Yes there are exceptions, notably Greg Wood and Alastair Down who will speak out and speak out loudly, but they are in the position of being “high profile” so are, in a way, protected. Although I know Alastair came under sustained attack for his article about the new Champions Day structure.


To regain credibility racing needs to change how it accredits journalists, moving away from a cosy closed shop.


As is the case with football, management should be handed over to an independent organisation, with the proviso which applies to football that the individual course has the final say in who attends their track, but that is separate from accreditation.


Racing accreditation should also be restricted to journalists who hold either a UK Press or a Sports Journalists Association (SJA) card. The only exception being former participants who have undertaken a relevant training course.


As is the case in football there should be a minimum reporting requirement and accredited journalists should attend a minimum number of meetings a year.


More radically I wouldn’t have an issue with journalists having to pay for their press badges. Of course, in return, courses would have to provide a proper working environment with facilities that actually work. I would consider £2,000 per journalist, £5,000 per bookmakers representative / SP reporter a year to be a reasonable charge. 

 

As a diversion, I note Channel Four issued the following after the Morning Line this morning,


“We'd like to apologise if Jamie Moore's closing remarks at the end of the Morning Line caused any offence to any of our viewers.”


What was his offensive comment? 


He said is brother was riding “on some Chinky horse” in Hong Kong.


For goodness sake this is political correctness gone mad but the sort of rubbish one would expect from the lefties at C4.


Frankly anyone who is offended by Jamie’s comment needs to get a life.  

 

Since publishing this article the President of HWPA has been in touch to clarify some points about the voting process.

He states the shortlists for Journalist and photographer of the year are not selected by the committee but by a team of “...... usually hugely respected journalists, retired or otherwise and often another highly respected individual from within racing. ” – who these hugely respected journalists are seems to be a mystery. Who are they? Who chooses them?


So it seems the system is even more secretive and potentially flawed than I originally suspected.


He states that with two exceptions all the categories are voted for by HWPA members – how many members actually vote? I’ve never seen the figures published anywhere, although I suppose they could be announced at the awards, although I doubt it and by all accounts of what I've heard most present would be in no fit state to take them in anyway. Are the votes independently audited.


No question marks above, the questions are rhetorical. There are plenty more questions I could ask but, frankly, cannot be arsed and as I will only be a member of the HWPA for another 24 days it's not really a problem for me to worry about- maybe others will want to ask the questions but I won't hold my breath.


In his response the President stated  Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Al Thani, winner of the owner of the year award, has "nothing to do with the  support of the awards."  


This, to me, demonstrates a stunning naivety of how the State of Qatar operates and how the Racing Club is organised and operated.

We clearly are not going to agree but I am happy to put his point of view. Having said that the HWPA awards were only an adjunct to the main thrust of the article in relation to media accreditation.

 

 

 

 


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