Freedom of the press? Not for student newspapers

Oct 23, 2014 by

Universities and, shockingly, students’ unions are seeking to stop unfavourable stories about their institutions

As the editor of Plymouth University’s student union paper, the Knowledge, Katie French felt she had a duty to hold her university to account. But four weeks before the deadline for her final-year dissertation she was threatened with expulsion when she printed a story that made Plymouth look bad.

The offending article, published last year, uncovered planned cuts of £260,000 to student services at the institution, including disability support. French says that the students’ union bombarded her with angry calls, texts and emails demanding that she remove it from the website. In one email, seen by the Guardian, a vice-president of the union warned: “Some things are sensitive for business reasons. Stage 3 dismissal from university or suspension.”

She recalls: “I panicked and burst into tears. I felt very isolated but at the same time I knew we were doing the right thing. At the end of the day I was just trying to report on things that students have the right to know about.”

On another occasion French, who feels she can speak out now she has secured a job on a Devon paper, says she was bullied by the union into burying a story on an all-expenses paid trip to Miami for a few university staff. She was told the tale was not true – but six months later the local paper broke the same story.

French explains: “I had a meeting with [one of the university’s communications staff]. She said she didn’t want us to pursue stories that portrayed the university in a bad light. She also said that if I’d played ball earlier in the year there would have been an opportunity for me to go to Miami with them. That was just insulting.

“To say that we were leant upon by the university is an understatement,” she argues. “They took advantage of our vulnerability as newly developing journalists.”

via Freedom of the press? Not for student newspapers | Education | The Guardian.

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