Fans at Sunday night’s Melbourne Victory vs New Zealand Knights A-League match mounted a peaceful protest against the Herald Sun over claims of bias, negative reporting, and editorial beat-ups.

The Herald Sun, remember, had trouble digesting the news that the Telstra Dome had signed a deal with Fairfax. And you wouldn’t use the words “cool”, “calm” or “collected” to describe the response to the Melbourne Racing Club, hosts of the Caulfield Guineas, after it signed a deal with The Age.

Like the Telstra Dome and the Melbourne Racing Club, the Melbourne Victory has a deal with Fairfax, and suspecting a hostile editorial agenda the club’s fans painted some pointed comments onto banners for last Sunday’s game:

The previous week, 50,333 fans gathered at the Tesltra Dome for a blockbuster between Melbourne and Sydney FC. Three fans were arrested, not for violence but failing to move on when ordered to by the police, yet this is how the Herald Sun reported it:

Crowd violence mars record night

By Peter Rolfe, December 11, 2006

A RECORD-breaking night spilled into violence as soccer fans brawled and fired flares in the Telstra Dome…

Tainted Victory sparks chaos

By David Lewis, December 12, 2006

MELBOURNE Victory will be ordered to segregate rival fans for home finals matches amid accusations from Sydney supporters that police were to blame for chaotic scenes following last Friday’s clash between the Victory and Sydney FC at the Telstra Dome.

According to sources close to the club, these reports are not isolated incidents. The Victory’s recent trip to Adelaide was subject to incorrect and inflammatory reporting of crowd misbehaviour, while earlier in the year the Express Advocate – a News Limited title based on the Central Coast of New South Wales – ran an incendiary story about potential crowd violence ahead of the Mariners clash with Sydney. The agenda, say some, is national.

So how does Melbourne’s 3AW fit in? SEN has the broadcast rights to the soccer in Melbourne, and fans allege that 3AW – a staunchly loyal AFL broadcaster – is doing what it can to undermine its competitor by subverting soccer’s growing popularity.

According to Victory fans, evidence comes in the form of Sean Sowerby, a sports producer at 3AW who was interviewed on Channel Nine News about the purported crowd violence at the Melbourne-Sydney game, but without identifying himself as a 3AW producer. He offered “proof” of the violence with footage on his mobile phone, a move that angered Melbourne Victory fans who, with a bit of creative googling, uncovered his identity.

The reaction was this call-to-arms on the Melbourne Victory forums:

Fellow supporter,

Over the course of the past week, our club, our supporters, and our game, have been under attack from sections of the mainstream media.

The Herald Sun, Channel Nine and 3AW have all embarked on a campaign of slander against us, following a minor incident at last week’s monumental match against Sydney FC. Reportage of this incident has been grossly exaggerated (much of it entirely based on lies, bias and ignorance) but has still been damaging to the Melbourne Victory Football Club and its supporters. The club itself has spoken out several times in ridicule of this reportage, yet it still continues.

Unfortunately, our game’s very own governing body, the FFA, has also been effected by this falsified paranoia about football violence, and are likely to act on it in ways that may affect our freedoms and identity as active supporters.

We, supporters, cannot and should not tolerate this any longer. Sunday is our opportunity to hit back! …

So does News have an anti A-League agenda, and is it playing up to negative stereotypes about soccer crowds? News Limited says, “No, they are not”.

Stephen Browning, News Limited’s Manager of Corporate Affairs, says claims of playing up to negative stereotypes of soccer supporters are “absolutely baseless.” On the issue of an agenda to hurt the A-League as a whole, Browning said: “News is 50% owner of Fox Sports – there are 120 million reasons why it is in News Ltd’s interests for the A-League and all the A-League clubs to be as successful as possible.” And on the issue of exaggerated reports: “If (Crikey) or the supporters can provide evidence of actual exaggeration or factual inaccuracies we will be happy to comment on them.”

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Peter Fray
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