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Universities have no right to intimidate the student press

Claims reported in The Independent today are of serious concern to student journalists.

According to the report, the president of UCLU’s official magazine was threatened with dismissal after obtaining forecasts showing UCL expected to generate increased income from student accommodation.

Pi Media’s Rebecca Pinnington said she – and anyone who publishes the documents – would be threatened with potential expulsion or court action after revealing that student journalists had seen internal university documents accidentally made available to students.

Also read: Rebecca Pinnington’s response to UCL’s statement

Given the campaigns and public debate now surrounding student rents, it is our view publication of the accommodation forecasts would have been in the public interest.

Rebecca said she was made to sign an agreement to destroy all copies of the documents immediately at a meeting with the university’s vice-provost Rex Knight. UCL has denied threatening the student.

UCL may have been within its legal right to prevent publication of internal documents. But with a view to creating a transparent and accountable university, its management has failed students and the public who help fund it.

Also read: The Student Publication Association responds to the story

London Student condemns any intimidation of student journalists acting in the course of legitimate reporting in the public interest. A central role of student media should be to hold universities to account, a role that has been substantially eroded by the interference of universities.

An attempt to change the Freedom of Information Act, a vital tool for journalists, was recently blocked, and thankfully universities will remain subject to FOI.

However the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, which receives its second parliamentary reading on Tuesday, will continue to allow police to intercept journalists’ communications and interfere with the protection of sources.

Any attempt by UCL to prevent publication of information in the public interest is an attack on press freedom. We support Pi Media’s efforts to publish information that is relevant and important to its readers.

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