The AFL community has rallied around Mitch Cleary and called for the journalist to be reinstated after he was stood down.
The AFL Media journalist has been stood down indefinitely after naming Brooke Cotchin and publishing the Instagram post that earned Richmond a $45,000 from the league.
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The Tigers were issued the huge fine ($25,000 of which was suspended) after captain Trent Cotchin’s wife visited a day spa on the Gold Coast last week.
Brooke Cotchin posted on Instagram that she had visited the spa - which contravened an agreement between players, clubs and the Queensland state government while they’re in quarantine hubs with their families.
However her name hadn’t been published in regards to the fine after an agreement between Richmond and the AFL, even though her post had been widely seen and veteran journalist Caroline Wilson had already named her on radio.
So the AFL decided to stand Cleary down when he published her post on social media on Friday night.
AFL Media employees are reportedly required to put their obligations to the league ahead of any motives as journalists.
This was the Instagram story that cost Richmond big money. Brooke Cotchin at a day spa in QLD.— Tom Morris (@tommorris32) July 31, 2020
AFL clamping down hard with strict protocols. https://t.co/Xm0Se6ujtR @FOXFOOTY pic.twitter.com/3y5Yg8Jz5e
AFL community rallies around Mitch Cleary
Fellow journalist Gerard Whateley explained the situation on Monday as the AFL community called for Cleary to be reinstated.
“There’s a couple of layers to this. There’s no understating the tension that has existed between the three parties in this – the Cotchins, Richmond and the AFL,” Whateley said on SEN radio.
“Part of the resolution was that the family would not be named, not withstanding Brooke Cotchin had published her own material in the public domain.
“It had been mentioned previously on radio and then Mitch Cleary put it out there.
“I think there’s every reason behind the scenes that prompted a level of fury and the AFL flinched.
“If I was a workplace lawyer the question I would be focusing on is did Cleary think he was a journalist or did he think he was an employee of the AFL.
“If he thought the initial, then he’s been desperately undermined and treated incredibly poorly.
“If it was always made clear to him that he was an employee of the AFL rather than a journalist then I don’t believe he would have taken the job.”
Whateley said their handling of the Cleary incident goes against previous claims that AFL Media work independently from the league.
“The AFL standing down Mitch Cleary is a betrayal of journalism and it is an exposing moment and I would think it’s an unnerving moment if you worked at AFL Media and you believed that you were working as a journalist rather than as an employee of the AFL,” Whateley said.
“You always have to know who you’re working for, but usually when you’re a journalist it comes without interference. That’s just a straight out betrayal of journalism.”
Collingwood chairman Eddie McGuire agreed that AFL Media were in the wrong.
“They have no problem telling us they’re independent when they’re shredding players, clubs and officials,” McGuire said on Triple M radio.
“This is going to have some ramifications down the track on what the AFL Media department is all about.”
Dozens of other journalists also took to social media to slam the decision and called for Cleary to be reinstated.
The AFL has stood down one of its own employees for reporting the truth.— Sam McClure (@sam_mcclure) August 2, 2020
That employee is a journalist.
Just let thank sink in.
The AFL shouid reverse the decision to stand down Mitch Cleary for posting information that was already in the public domain. I get it, tough year, working tirelessly, decisions on run at 1000 miles an hour, mistakes made. It's a poor decision.— peter ryan (@petryan) August 2, 2020
Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Mitch Cleary reporting on something that had been self-published on Instagram?— Andy Maher (@AndyMaherDFA) August 2, 2020
Mitch is one of the best journos covering our game. He's also a great person and does not deserve any of this. Let's hope the AFL can concede they've made a huge mistake here. https://t.co/Lf9On3AgWk— Oliver Caffrey (@ollycaffrey) August 2, 2020
If this is true serious questions need to be asked of the @AFL - @cleary_mitch doing his job and reporting a breach of policy around #cotchin in unprecedented times - seems he does not deserve to be stood down from where I am sitting. #mitchcleary #afl #Gil https://t.co/s2vwL27pd2— Paul Johnson (@pjohnson_sports) August 2, 2020
Five AFL clubs hit with fines
On Saturday, Collingwood were fined $50,000 - with half that amount suspended - for transgressions made by coach Nathan Buckley and assistant Brenton Sanderson.
The experienced pair played tennis with two people outside the club's “bubble” in Perth on Friday and later self-reported the incident.
They did not breach West Australian government regulations but did fall foul of AFL-imposed guidelines.
The Magpies' penalty came a day after Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Richmond and Carlton were issued similar heavy fines for protocol breaches.