Free Speech at the University of York

Here’s an interview I did last December. I’m proud of it. There’s a proper report of the story from my friends at The Yorker but I’ll tell you my side of it below.

One of the student papers here at York, Vision, published a piece rating student politicians on their performance. An hour after the copies were handed out, they were recollected. Copies were pulled out of students hands sitting in coffee shops and there was no information provided on the issue.

Two days later, the papers were handed out again. The article had been removed and there was a suspicious cut out in each copy where an opinion piece had been. I was intrigued and irritated that nothing had been said about this. Surely we had a right to know?

The political piece may have contained libellous material – it was dubious. The opinion piece was completely unrelated – it followed up on the front page story about gay rights in the developing world and declared these countries ‘uncivilised’ and the ‘uncivilised world’.

Still nothing was said about it. The student politicians responsible refused to comment. It was as though it had never happened.

I sent email after email, and eventually after sending one informing the Student Union that I had in my possession an unedited copy which I was tempted to read live on my radio show, someone agreed to talk to me and explain what I’ve just told you. At the time, there were just baffling blanks in our copies of the newspaper.

In my meeting, I remonstrated with the student union official. He had a duty to explain what had happened and why, without warning or consequent explanation, he had censored a student publication charged with holding the Student Union to account. I agreed with him that I would edit out all mentions of the term ‘libellous’, given that if there was a court case he didn’t want to be seen admitting the material was so. He used this to his advantage, and would just answer ‘this article was libellous’ to some questions that I asked. No charges were pressed.

Regardless, I had found it unacceptable that an organisation we elected could dictate silence on an issue so completely. I pressured them into an interview with me and you can hear the results on the link provided. I’m proud of the interview although it did sever my relations with the Student Union – who were informed they could not speak to me on or off the record. When I played this interview on my show, I received a nasty phone call informing me that my show might be cancelled as a result. It hasn’t been, but I realised I had a taste for political reporting.

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