Newspaper publication delayed by Students' Union

  4 March 2010

Distribution of The Cambridge Student (TCS) was delayed by two days last week, after Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) officers informed editors that due to unspecified “legal reasons” they would not be permitted to publish two articles which included details of CUSU Coordinator candidate Chris Lillycrop’s censored manifesto.

The editor refused to go to press without the articles in question, and was informed the next day that they could be included, after advice had been sought from a solicitor.

The attempt by CUSU to control what can be printed has been received badly. Anna Croall, head of the TCS Board of Directors, has sent an open letter to CUSU, signed by 18 previous TCS editors and news editors, as well as the current elected member of the Board of Directors.

The letter, printed in the Comment section of this newspaper, states: “The events of last week constitute the latest instance in a long line of disagreements and conflicts between TCS editors and CUSU sabbatical officers” and asks that the Trustees “publicly acknowledge their mistake in insisting the articles not be printed, and apologise to the paper and its readership for the unwarranted interference”.

Queens’ JCR President Elect Charlie Bell emailed CUSU President Tom Chigbo in response to the open letter, stating: “It seems that a clause in CUSU legislation was used as a purely political tool to prevent something being published which didn’t suit specific pressure groups within CUSU”. He said: “At present I worry that I would not be able to make representation to our student body in any positive way about , its safeguarding of our interests, or its transparent use of finances”, and said that he would have to consider whether Queens’ should remain affiliated to CUSU.

The Trustees have responded to the letter by claiming that its signatories, although they acted “in good faith,” had been “misled.” Their reply, sent by Tom Chigbo, went on to state that: “The basis of your concern would seem to be a belief that CUSU’s Board of Trustees acted in an ill-considered, kneejerk manner, which subsequent legal advice proved to have been wrong. This is entirely untrue.

“CUSU’s Trustees, at a late night meeting on Wednesday 24th February, judged that the two articles that the TCS Editor intended to print would, if printed as he intended, place CUSU at unacceptable risk of legal action. This judgement was based on the best information available at the time. This included advice from the CUSU Coordinator…who had herself consulted relevant staff at the National Union of Students (NUS) and carefully considered relevant UK employment law, including the Employment Rights Act 1996.

“During the working day on Thursday 25th February we sought and received legal advice, which made clear that the Trustees had made the right call the previous night.”

Despite these claims, when originally contacted by the Editor for her opinion on the legality of printing the two articles under discussion at around 3PM, CUSU Coordinator Clare Tyson stated that it would be acceptable for both to be included in the paper.

Chigbo’s reply concluded: “Your letter also raised the issue of improving working practices and governance structures between TCS and the rest of CUSU. Your characterisation of the status quo is sensationalist, but raises important issues which are already being considered by the working group. I remain committed to this process, and will endeavour to accelerate it.”

Chigbo is currently Chair of a CUSU/TCS working group set up to address issues surrounding the paper’s relationship with CUSU.The  group has only met twice since its creation at the end of Michaelmas term.

Matthew Horrocks, TCS editor for Michaelmas 2008 and a signatory of the letter to the Trustees, stated that “Mr Chigbo utterly failed to address the substantive issues and constructive suggestions made by this group. TCS’ editorial independence, which he glibly professes to uphold will never be secure until meaningful and productive talks take place, talks he has ducked and dodged for months.

“Tom Chigbo has reacted in a typically defensive and selective manner. 19 current and former members of the editorial team raised their considered concerns and many privately made clear to me their shock and anger at CUSU’s actions. Some have been removed from Cambridge for many years: theirs was not a sensationalist response.”

Jen Mills – News Edit

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