The College is seeking to silence student media in a draft copy of a new memorandum of understanding between College and the Union. The document, to be debated at Council this evening, contains both large and small changes, however it is a small one which is of most concern.
Annex H of the new document, a revised Staff-Student Protocol, extends protections to College staff. Under the current MoU Union staff are protected from attacks in the student media, however College staff are fair game. Point 17 of the new Staff-Student Protocol, if it was passed, would prevent any Union "articles, correspondence or other publications" from commenting on College staff as well. This would prevent articles on useless Heads of Department, pay rises for academics or any criticism of the Rector. It is unclear whether commentary on academics taking controversial stances on world events or ethical issues would be affected, however it could certainly be interpreted that way.
The threat of having their face plastered all over campus on the front of Felix has been a useful deterrent against academics doing stupid things, or being generally useless. Indeed, it is rumoured some Heads of Department are terrified of it happening to them.
This extra addition to the SSP appears to affect more than just the media - "correspondence" indicates that discussion of College or Union staff in emails would also be banned, making the jobs of departmental representatives rather challenging.
Not content with rendering the Union and student media impotent, College are also seeking to introduce further controls. Annex F of the new ICU Code of Practice requires the ICU President to authorise removal of any material considered defamatory by the College Secretary. Should the editor of the publication in question object, then an "independent" arbitrator - in the form of the Pro-Rector (Education Quality) - will be brought in to decide whether the material removed is defamatory. The arbitrator may seek legal advice, however his or her ruling is final, with no scope for appeal.
The Annex sets no limits on how long an investigation into "defamatory material" may take, effectively allowing College to call something defamatory and have it removed for an indefinite period of time, "pending further investigation".
This attempted control comes despite a statement in the body of the Code of Practice which claims: "The College accepts no responsibility for anything published by or on behalf of the ICU".
This year the Union established a procedure for dealing with complaints in a more rigorous manner, drawing on the experience of the Union Court to mediate in any disputes involving the media. The proposed trustee board would also provide another layer of absolute control, capable of taking any defamatory material out of circulation.
The College has been particularly concerned about the Union's media following Felix last year, which caused problems by its frequent attacks on Ethos and the Head of Sport Imperial, Neil Mosley. A series of negative articles eventually led to Felix being removed from Ethos, amid rumours that the negative press became quite expensive.