Leeds team in **** fracas

November 7, 2003

Leeds University's award-winning student newspaper is considering plans to go private after accusing its paymasters, the student union executive, of censorship, writes Phil Baty.

The union's executive committee caused outrage in May when it agreed to destroy an entire print-run of the Leeds Student after the newspaper quoted a rock musician describing prime minister Tony Blair as "not even worth calling a ****".

The executive said it had no option other than to pulp the 5,500 copies of the newspaper after it had received legal advice warning that the article could be libellous.

But editor Mark Powell this week said the suggestion that the article could be libellous was "laughable" and contradicted legal advice that he had received. He accused the executive of censorship and attributed the action to sour grapes.

Mr Powell said: "The paper maintains an independent view and we are here to play a watchdog role, so we often run things the executive doesn't like. I think this was the straw that broke the camel's back after a long history of friction between the paper and the executive."

The decision to pulp - preferred to an offer by its printer to remove the offending page by hand for just £150 - lost the paper £1,500 of advertising revenue, which the union recouped by refusing to fund the following issue.

The editorial team decided to push ahead with a self-financed issue, which proved a success.

Mr Powell would not be drawn on the extent of privatisation plans, but said: "We have already demonstrated that we can function independently."

The newspaper, which won last year's National Union of Students' newspaper of the year award, is understood to receive about £72,000 a year from the union, but pays the money back with advertising revenue.

It is understood that the paper's managers are confident that a privatised paper could exceed its current revenue as there would be no union control over which advertisements they could accept.

Related story:
Legal view: Blair unlikely to sue

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