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Live! - News

President Complicit in Media Censorship

Jun 09 2007 01:55
William the Conquerer
ICU's publications face the risk of instant censorship with no appeal, under new guidelines being supported by the ICU President.
We now have a national voice, but what of the local one?

The College's efforts to gag student media are continuing, this time with the ICU President as partner in crime. The attempt to bring College staff under the staff-student protocol appears to have been dropped, however the 'defamation policy' has remained in the revised Code of Practice with additional changes by ICU.

...the College and ICU look to balance freedom of expression against the substantial liability which can be occasioned by suits for defamation.
Revised Defamation Code of Practice - ICU addition

Both the Live! and Felix Editors have criticised the revised document, as the changes make essentially no difference while appearing to endorse its existence. Concerns about scope of appeal and lack of an independent arbitrator have not been addressed - indeed, the bulk of the changes appear to be a tighter definition of what 'defamation' is. The most concerning addition is a change of wording, from what is essentially a College directive to a formal agreement between ICU and the College.

The Pro-Rector (Educational Quality) remains the 'independent' arbitrator, there is still no limit on how long a publication may be impounded for and there is no appeals process. The ICU President has an explicitly subservient and powerless role in the process, being required to remove a publication when told to do so.

Rushed approval?

Monday's Council has a long list of business to get through, with nearly a dozen lapsed policies to re-pass and many new ones coming in. As the last meeting of Council this year it also has to pass the governance changes to set-up a trustee board, approve colours, agree in principle to proceed with the next phase of the Beit masterplan, make nominations to Court, approve the annual report and receive reports from all sabbaticals and faculty union presidents.

Amongst all this is the ICU Code of Practice, including in Annex F the defamation code of practice. This Annex, which would allow the College Secretary to impound Felix if it criticised a member of staff who then complained, looks likely to be rubber stamped as it gets lost in the other papers. Amendments can not be brought from the floor due to time constraints, meaning any changes not submitted before the meeting will be rejected. An amendment to strike the Annex at this reading has been submitted.


The ICU President, John Collins, has provided a number of justifications for retaining Annex F and his reasons for not opposing it, the core principle behind them being 'the College owns the Union, so it can shut down the media anyway'. He told Live! that this provides a formal and transparent route for them to take action against potentially defamatory material, without resorting to ad-hoc methods (one could surmise this would involve College staff collecting newspapers and disposing of them).

Mr Collins concurred with other points raised regarding the defamation code, in particular that the Pro-Rector (Educational Quality) was not the best 'independent' arbitrator. However, he stated that it would have to be someone in College as they would be available at short notice to consider the issue. He also supported adding a note on conflicts of interest, where the College Secretary or Pro-Rector was the subject of the alleged defamation but at present could order or support impounding a publication.

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Discussion about “President Complicit in Media Censorship”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
1. Sid   
Jun 09 2007 16:19

Even dictators bow under public pressure **

2. pg   
Jun 10 2007 17:08

Let us hope Council actually considers the decisions it is making, rather than passing everything in order to get out as soon as possible. It seems silly to just give in and let College have what they want, especially as its very hard to reverse later.

Maybe I missed the point of the trustee board and court - I thought they were supposed to sort out this sort of thing once the changes are made?

3. Hmm.   
Jun 11 2007 09:14

If council rejects it, what are the chances College will just force it through anyway?

Jun 11 2007 09:27

They can't. The Code of Practice must be agreed by both ICU and the College - they can't force it on us (unlike the constitution, which they can force on us). Although they can just have the publications removed anyway if they wanted...

We definitely need some sort of agreement/procedure for dealing with cases of possible defamation, but this is not it. Defamation is an expensive business, but we must avoid publications being removed unfairly - apparently Felix was accused of defamation a few years ago over corruption in catering(?), but the person named was tried and sent to prison for it. We're trying to find the right issue...

A similar document was presented to Sen Ganesh many moons ago, but he told them where to stick it.

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