The UK Reading Chronicle apologized this week for an article linking hooligans to the 1989 Hillsborough stadium tragedy.
Hillsborough was the scene of “Britain’s deadliest sporting disaster” in which 96 Liverpool football fans died “in a crush” at the stadium, according to Yahoo News.
The deaths were not the actions of hooligans; instead, regular sports fans, moms, dad, and teens were crushed at a closed gate.
“How dare they put Hillsborough in the same breath as hooliganism,” Margaret Aspinall, a mother of one of the victims at Hillsborough said in response to the article.
The Reading Chronicle story was titled “The Other face of Football.” According to the Press Gazette, the article included a “mock-up of a Reading FC fan brandishing a weapon” and and read in part,
“Football hooliganism may be thought of as a relic from a previous age when gangs of denim-clad skinheads held the game to ransom and names like Hillsborough and Heysel were symbols of its ills.”
An image of the front-page was posted on Twitter.
— Nick Gutteridge (@nick_gutteridge) March 20, 2014
Local football club protests
Sir John Madejski, the chairman of local football club Reading FC, complained that the article “completely misrepresents the vast majority of our fans,” in a statement on the club’s website.
“The article itself is an unwarranted and sensationalised attack which undermines everything our club tries to represent,” he said.
He went on to say that the club “decided to suspend our relationship” with the newspaper. iMediaEthics has written to the club to ask what this means.
Mother of Hillsborough victim calls it ‘absolute disgrace’
The Hillsborough Family Support Group’s chairman also called the article an “absolute disgrace,” according to the Liverpool Echo. Chairman Margaret Aspinall said:
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“How dare they put Hillsborough in the same breath as hooliganism.
“What a time to put this out, when we’re getting ready for the memorial service and the inquests.
“I would make stronger comment, but at this time I don’t want anything being prejudicial to the inquests.”
Aspinall’s son died at Hillsborough.
Newspaper, Publisher issue multiple apologies
After complaints, the publisher of the Reading Chronicle and the newspaper itself apologized.
The publisher of the newspaper, Berkshire Media Group, posted a press release on the Chronicle‘s website apologizing for the hooligans claim. The March 21 statement reads:
“The publishers of the Reading Chronicle wish to apologise unreservedly for any offence taken by any third party to this week’s front page article which focuses on football hooliganism. The article was intended to form part of a topical debate and was in no way intended to offend.”
The managing director for the newspaper’s publisher apologized “unreservedly” for the article, according to the Press Gazette. Keith McIntyre stated: “It was never our intention to do so and we fully accept that hooliganism played no part in the tragic events of 15 April 1989.”
In addition, the Reading Chronicle’s editor Maurice O’Brien apologized in a statement to the Liverpool Echo:
“We certainly in no way would wish to link Hillsborough with hooliganism. That certainly wasn’t our intention.
“We have no intention of upsetting anybody, particularly the survivors, having appreciated everything they have gone through over a considerable amount of time.”
The Chronicle says on its website it follows the Press Complaints Commission’s code of practice. iMediaEthics has written to the PCC to ask how many, if any, complaints it has received over the article.
While the Hillsborough disaster occurred in 1989, it is still in the news; only in 2012 did the UK Sun apologize for how it covered the deaths.
Twenty-three years after the fact, the Sun issued a prominent apology for its 1989 coverage of Hillsborough. The Sun’s apology said it relied on the police’s claims that football fans were responsible, when a recent investigation into Hillsborough had determined “there were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath there were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans.”
iMediaEthics has written to the Chronicle‘s editor for further comment and will update with any response. We’re also reaching out to the Hillsborough Family Support Group.
UPDATE: 3/24/2014 12:07 PM EST: The PCC confirmed it has received complaints about the article but the number is “very small.”