Censor alert at Nottingham Trent

Undergraduate claims he was gagged by students' union over contentious article. John Gill writes

April 7, 2011

The deputy editor of a student magazine has been barred from publishing stories after he refused to allow students' union officers and university administrators to vet one of his articles.

Oliver Whitfield-Miocic, a final-year student at Nottingham Trent University, claimed he was gagged over fears that the article on university spending would damage the students' union's relationship with managers if it appeared in Platform Online, the union's official student magazine.

The student obtained details of Nottingham Trent's spending on redesigning its logo and other rebranding activities using freedom of information laws.

He also requested other data, such as the sums spent on consultants and executive pay.

In its response, the university press office asked to "see any article you draft before it goes to print so that we have the opportunity to correct any inaccuracies".

Mr Whitfield-Miocic said he refused and was subsequently contacted by Phil Docherty, president of the students' union.

In an email to him, Mr Docherty says that the article, which had not been written at that point, could represent the university "unfairly, inaccurately or out of context".

He adds that "before any such article could be published, we would need to view it to check that the content was correct, representative...and fair".

Mr Docherty goes on to state that Platform is "the official medium of Nottingham Trent Students' Union", and that union officials "have the right to view, amend or 'pull' articles if we deem them to present a risk to the best interests of the organisation".

Both Nottingham Trent and Mr Docherty denied that they had been aware of the other's concerns. However, Mr Whitfield-Miocic claimed he had fallen victim to censorship.

"I was going to present the facts, as I've been taught," he said. "I have been taught how to be a journalist, from producing balanced articles to holding people to account to censorship in journalism.

"In fact, I've paid the university more than £9,000 for the privilege. But when I try to apply the skills the university has taught me, it tries to censor me. If ever there was a case of hypocrisy ... ".

Justifying his decision to bar Mr Whitfield-Miocic from publishing stories without the union's permission, Mr Docherty writes that "any action the university might take in relation to any published articles about which it had a concern would be against (the students' union) rather than you personally".

He adds: "Such an article could put the good relationships we have with the university unnecessarily at risk."

The university's press office said that Mr Whitfield-Miocic had asked 16 questions covering eight subjects after nearly 40 FoI requests.

It "flagged up concern" about the accuracy of some of his information, but said it also made it clear that it "recognised and supported editorial independence".

It added that there had been no contact between the press office and Mr Docherty on the issue, and that the decision to bar the deputy editor from publishing stories was a matter for the union.


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