Orwell's Oxford paper accused of political bias

March 5, 2004

The Oxford University student newspaper that launched the careers of George Orwell and Graham Greene is fighting to defend its reputation amid allegations of "errors, misjudgements and misdemeanours".

Cherwell has been attacked in motions from three Oxford college student junior common rooms that accuse the paper of political bias, of faking letters and of a string of factual errors.

Keble and Wadham college students voted to "de-subscribe" from the 84-year-old newspaper, Oxford's oldest independent student voice. Colleges pay under £100 a term for 100 copies a week.

The decision at Wadham was later overturned after a referendum, and a debate to overturn the motion at Keble is planned for this weekend. A motion for Balliol College to de-subscribe was defeated.

At the heart of the row are allegations of political bias over Cherwell 's negative coverage of the Oxford University Students' Union.

Critics of the paper claim that Aled George, Cherwell 's news editor, compromised his paper's celebrated independence after paying for an advertisement - placed in the paper's opinion and editorial pages - urging his fellow students at Mansfield College to disaffiliate from the OUSU.

The same issue of the paper included a letter attacking the OUSU. The letter, signed "anonymous, Wadham College", says the OUSU council is "risible" and is blighted by "the various shades of red, arguing [about] which type of South American basket weavers to support".

Robert Vance, Wadham student union president, wrote to Cherwell saying the union "strongly believed" the letter was not from a Wadham student.

The JCR motions also highlighted a series of errors by Cherwell . One, in early February, saw Cherwell forced to apologise to the co-president of the university's Jewish Society for linking him with an anti-Semitic email after a mix-up of names.

A Cherwell spokesperson said: " Cherwell maintains extremely high editorial standards by ensuring its total independence from all bodies, including the OUSU."

But a Cherwell source said the row was little more than a case of journalistic rivalry from the pro-OUSU Oxford Student newspaper, whose staff were involved in the de-subscription motions.

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