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Censoring student media


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Gagging, censorship and intrusion into the affairs of the media by those with a vested interest.

You'd be forgiven for thinking I was talking about a repressive dictatorship: actually, it's the University of Central Lancashire's Student Union.

Perhaps that's a bit dramatic, but freedom of expression is one of our most important human rights. It's unsurprising that attempts to curtail it at the university's student newspaper have been met with righteous indignation.

To bring you up to speed with what I'm referring to, news emerged this week that student journalists working for student media at the UCLan had been slapped with a restrictive code of conduct.

Not only that but an important story about a student union officer who had sent distasteful tweets had been deliberately buried in the back pages.

Volunteers at the various student media outlets were asked in a meeting to adhere to guidelines. Students were told that they could neither report nor comment on any student union officers without going through the union's media officer.

It's a move which has generated an awful lot of vitriol and anger and it's no surprise. No legitimate commercial publication would stand for censorship short of an injunction so the student journalists at UCLan have every right to be unhappy.

A free press is a right enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and part of that involves the ability to question the status quo. Being able to investigate the conduct of the officials we have elected to represent us is an important part of that – whether it be David Cameron or an SU officer.

Although it's an easy subject to get worked up about, it is however important to look at it in a wider context.

An informal straw poll of a small sample of fellow journalism students was met with indignation when I explained the story.

It's shocking, perhaps all the more so for us as naïve and inexperienced journalists, but no-one else who I spoke to had experienced similar.

From the pool of students I spoke to who worked in student media at my university and elsewhere it doesn't seem to be common practice.

Nobody else had found their university or union attempting to influence the content or tone of a story.

The situation from which the debacle arose seemed to me to be a simple error of judgement. Student Unions, let us not forget, are largely volunteer-run organisations. When one of the officers made a mistake with the potential to get them in trouble, they panicked and made a mistake which was ill informed but not, at the end of the day, malicious.

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