Sheffield University Bans Student Newspaper – And Then Backtracks
If you have made your way to this website, you are undoubtedly aware that we are an independent student newspaper. You are probably also aware of our history, ethos and what we are trying to achieve. If not, this is worth a read.
Today, Forge Press (Sheffield University) published their first issue of the academic year. The front page carried an expose about “the University’s plan to use a legal loophole in order to pay workers, including many students, less”.
A great story. Newsworthy, well-researched and in the public interest. But interestingly, Forge Press encountered an issue, explained by its splash which read: “The story the university doesn’t want you to read”.
Amazingly, Sheffield University “banned Forge Press from distributing copies of [the] paper in the student villages and other university owned residences”, before an undignified backtrack this afternoon in reaction to a public outcry and a PR disaster.
This event should remind us all, never take freedom of the press lightly. It is crucial for our society and even our small university bubbles. I wrote a letter to the Editor of Forge Press this evening echoing such views and pouring scorn over any institution that restricts free journalistic activity by students. You can read it below.
To top it off, Forge Media won Best Student Media 2012 from the NUS and had two students on a six-person shortlist for reporter of the year. Forge Press is a fantastic publication and it should be commended for its excellent journalism.
Your recent scoop regarding Sheffield University cutting workers’ pay exemplifies the importance of independent student journalism. The moves taken by ACS and the University to restrict the distribution of your newspaper in light of the expose also highlights a wider issue that students should recognise all over the country.
Journalism is currently under the spotlight. The phone-hacking scandal and the recent announcement regarding Hillsborough have poured scorn over our national red-tops. But we should never forget the absolutely vital role ethical and professional journalism plays in our society to expose wrongdoing, impropriety and to inform the public. Indeed, the phone-hacking scandal itself was uncovered not by the police, but by the press.
As student journalists, we have a similar role to play within our university bubbles. Publications owned by Student Unions are often nothing more than a public relations arm where proper journalistic practices are restricted and stories that bring institutions into disrepute are pulled by Union sabbaticals.
Independent publications are the way forward. Forge Press, York Vision, Cherwell, Epigram, the list goes on; these are all fantastic newspapers with editorial independence. Having edited Loughborough Student Union’s magazine, Label, I deemed it right to launch the university’s first independent newspaper this summer so interference could cease and journalism could thrive.
You should be extremely proud for standing up to the university authorities in your last issue and for upholding your independence. On the other hand, Sheffield University should be ashamed for attempting to curb the freedom of the press.
It seems to me that there is an interesting debate as to the detail of the story in question. What is not in question is Forge Press’ justification in printing it and ACS’s unjustified moves to ban distribution, albeit until their backtrack.
Thankfully, it seems that their actions have backfired spectacularly. Lets hope they and other university and union authorities around the United Kingdom wake up and respect the right for student journalists to do what they do best. Maybe they will also realise that a vibrant and free press at whatever level is crucial for a free society – something many take for granted.
Editor-in-Chief, The Epinal
Loughborough’s Independent Student Newspaper