In an exclusive, two-part interview with A
Andrew Jennings’ Panorama programme eventually found an unlikely ally in the Daily Mail, a newspaper not noted for its support of the BBC. “The Mail are no fans of the BBC but after some of the things that were said about Panorama they wrote a nice editorial defending it.”
The Daily Mail editorial began: “With one voice, Britain’s mealy-mouthed sporting establishment attacks the BBC for exposing the corruption at the heart of international football on the eve of the vote to decide who will host the 2018 World Cup. According to a statement from the England bid team, Panorama’s revelations that FIFA officials have taken massive bribes are ‘an embarrassment to the BBC.’” The piece concluded by saying: “If we lose, at least we can pride ourselves on a BBC unafraid to expose the rank fraud in the top echelons of world football. The corporation’s journalists are to be congratulated.”
But that is not what happened. The kind of support Jennings received from the Daily Mail was not replicated across the board, and he has a theory as to why. “Journalism needs to get back to how it used to be. I might not agree with Kelvin McKenzie on most things but when he was editor of The Sun, if he heard the BBC were working on a story like Panorama, he’d go into the office and say – leaving out the language – ‘Right, you bunch…the BBC are working on something. Let’s get it first.’ But no one does that now.
“Instead, you’ve got someone sitting at a keyboard, working for the Daily Blag, typing away – ‘I hate FIFA, I hate Sepp Blatter.’ First, have you met the English language? It might help with the writing. Anyone can do that.
“But you have to be hungry in journalism. I go to colleges and talk to young journalists and tell them you have to cultivate your sources. You have to protect your sources, and you cannot be afraid of asking questions. Hopefully, eventually, they won’t need me telling them what to do and they can go out and do it themselves.” Jennings feels the fall in journalism standards is the reason FIFA has become so opaque. “Who is going to govern FIFA? Governments in this country, including the coalition, have talked about cleaning up football but no one’s done it. It should be the reporters but they’re too lazy.”
There appears to be a belief amongst some sections of the English Press that football’s governing bodies are biased against English football. Jennings, however, will hear none of it. “They say FIFA and UEFA are anti-English. I don’t think they are for a second, and any reporter who writes that is a disgrace. They’re a disgrace to journalism.” Instead, Jennings has a note of praise for UEFA President Michel Platini: “Platini is clean. I really believe Platini is clean. And he will challenge Sepp Blatter in the future.” He went on: “I really think the IOC [International Olympic Committee] is clean now too. And they had massive problems with corruption themselves but they sorted it out. The Panorama programme could spur the IOC into action because Issa Hayatou is a member of the IOC too.
“Because German isn’t a widely reported and spoken language here, we don’t get the Swiss reaction to FIFA. The Swiss don’t want FIFA there. They’ve had enough problems with their banks hiding shady money. And every time Blatter comes out with one of his ridiculous statements the Swiss roll their eyes. The Swiss parliament can’t investigate someone criminally like the police but they’re tired of FIFA. I expect something to happen.”
Talk soon returns to Platini. “He gets too much criticism from our media, in my view. Why? Because he wants a salary cap? We need it.” Jennings is adamant fear is part of the reason many reporters toe the Premier League’s line. “They’re afraid of losing their access. They’re happy just reporting on the great goals.”And it is not just the Press, according to Jennings, who cower at the site of the Premier League. “The Premier League control English football. They control the ninnies at the FA. The FA is scared of the Premier League. They’re little mice squeaking in the corner, in the dark.”
Few in English football escape Jennings’ condemnation. “The people running the Premier League aren’t good businessmen. They got lucky when Rupert Murdoch decided to build his television station around football. In any other business they’d be out of a job,” he says, adding: “And now they don’t want regulation. Everyone else gets regulated. I get regulated, you get regulated. Why should they be any different?” Andrew Jennings is clearly a man who loves asking questions, and luckily for the good of football, it will take more than FIFA to stop him.