Editor under fire for report

June 5, 1998

The University of Hull has become entangled in a censorship row surrounding an MA programme in security studies which has recruited a number of high ranking Indonesian army officials.

Concerns about the ethics of admitting officials who maintained the brutal Suharto regime were raised by academics at a meeting with the vice-chancellor, and the meeting was subsequently reported in the University Bulletin.

Bulletin editor Jim Dumsday, who is also the university press officer, is now being disciplined because he did not get authorisation for the article which he claims was legitimate and balanced. "This raises the role of the Bulletin and its freedom to report on open discussions within the university plus the ability of its editor to function without being subject to pressures of this kind," he said.

"It also has important implications for the university's responsibility to be open and accountable as required by the Nolan committee."

Mr Dumsday said there was a great deal of concern within the university over the Indonesian students, who are part of a special military command known as Kopassus. "What is a university newsletter for?" he asked. "While I appreciate it does not have the same duty of disclosure as a newspaper, it should create a feeling of community in the university and carry a mix of news and events of interest to staff. It should not, however, be a censored publication which only reflects the views of senior management."

But the university strongly denied the disciplinary proceedings amounted to censorship: "The Bulletin is an official public document and it is reasonable to expect senior staff to be able to look at proofs to ensure the proper presentation of the university," said pro vice-chancellor Robert Harris.

Carmel Budiardjo, director of Tapol, the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, said: "Students protesting for democracy have been shot and killed on the streets of Jakarta. Most British universities are seen as centres of free speech, one of the many freedoms that do not exist in Indonesia."

Janet Blackman, president of the Hull Association of University Teachers, which is backing Mr Dumsday, said: "If management has decided this is their newsletter then I suspect most people would throw it straight in the bin. The newsletter should be an internal publication for all members of staff. It is entirely inappropriate to discipline an editor within a university."

Mr Dumsday was recently elected to the university council on a manifesto which questioned the university's whistle-blowing policy. He said staff could have no confidence in any investigation procedures into concerns about senior management and suggested that the university's audit of its administration should include an investigation by outside consultants of the role and workings of senior management units. The suggestion, he says, has the overwhelming support of staff.

Mr Dumsday is also calling for a code of conduct for university public relations officers who would then be protected in a similar way to government information officers. He said:"We need to establish as a profession whether we are part of the accountability of universities or whether we are merely spin doctors there to defend the bosses. The issue here at Hull has never been resolved and I suspect a lot of other universities fall into the same category."

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