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University of Sussex Students Union suspends distribution of The Badger

29th September 2015

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In a developing row over student media freedom at the University of Sussex, the latest issue of The Badger student newspaper has been seized and the editor suspended just one week into the academic year.

University of SussexThe weekly newspaper saw copies of their 2015/2016 first edition seized by University of Sussex Students Union (USSU) in a clash over a story about ex-Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing’s decision to step down over the recent payout made by the University to five former students it took disciplinary action against in 2013. 

The piece in question referred to ongoing legal proceedings against the University from a former student. 

The Badger reported that in February 2015, the five students, were awarded over £2,000 each by Sussex University after the universities ombudsman found the management had been “unjustified, disproportionate and unfair” in suspending the students, describing the university’s actions as “politically motivated”.

The University refused to deny that Farthing’s decision to step down this year was motivated by this outcome. Farthing had previously hinted that he would stay beyond 2016, but since departing has announced he would like more time to spend on “personal projects”. 

The Huffington Post revealed in 2014 that the University had spent over £100,000 in legal fees after taking disciplinary action against the five students between February 2013 and January 2014. 

The NUS condemned the spending as “ludicrous” and branded it disgraceful that “Sussex University chose to criminalise its students at all”. 

Anticipating that the piece could cause a backlash, The Badger received independent legal advice saying that all of the content in the report was legally sound and that there could be no legal repercussions brought against them. 

Yet after sending the paper to print, despite not having the permission of their publisher USSU, the Union seized copies of the paper forcing the editorial team to suspend the paper. 

The Students’ Union did not cite any clear or specific legal reasons for blocking what would have been the penultimate edition to their 20th anniversary paper. 

USSU also suspended the paper’s first democratically elected Editor-in-Chief, Paul Millar. The editor is a paid position. 

Taking further action today USSU blocked access to the papers staff email accounts. The team explained on Twitter that 'As a result we can't get some necessary evidence' need to fight the decision.

In a press release the paper said: “The students of Sussex deserve to have an editorially independent newspaper. 

“We report news. We don’t want to argue with the Union. We just want to write.” 

In a statement issued online USSU SAID, "Each issue of The Badger has to be signed off by a Students’ Union representative before it is sent to print to ensure it complies with relevant legislation and to avoid the threat of litigation. 

"This ensures The Badger is operating within the law and protects the Union and student journalists from potentially costly legal cases as the Union is the publisher of The Badger.

"This process had not been followed for the most recent issue. The Badger were asked not to distribute the paper until it had been signed off in the correct way."

The newspaper, catering to over 15,000 students and staff, has also called for the immediate reinstatement of Millar.

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