IN many ways Teesside’s Gazette newspaper is a rival to The Northern Echo. We cover some of the same towns, compete for some of the same advertising revenue, and are both in the business of persuading people to buy our newspapers and visit our websites.

For us to speak up on behalf of The Gazette may seem about as likely as Jose Mourinho offering a kind word to Pep Guardiola but sometimes you have to set aside self interest and look at the bigger picture.

Six months have passed since a dispute flared up between The Gazette and Middlesbrough Football Club over which of the paper’s reporters the club would allow to interview the Boro players and manager. The club has continued to offer some Gazette reporters unfettered access but the paper has taken a principled stance not to attend press conferences on the basis that no third party has the right to dictate which reporters are assigned to a story.

Our natural instinct is to back our fellow journalists, even those who work for a local rival. We empathise with their stance, although the full details behind the spat have never been made clear as the club has remained tight-lipped.

Wherever the blame lies we believe that clear-the-air talks between both parties would be a sensible next step. 

In the meantime, a key point to emerge from this affair is that newspapers must remain fiercely independent from the influence of organisations, politicians and businesses. If we ever reach a point when we accept that they can dictate the terms of engagement then the free press as we know it will have died.