Are Students Free to Speak Their Mind? Well at Southampton, yes.

The debate surrounding the limitations of free speech has been a key issue of the last few months, from Charlie Hebdo to Page 3, it has not been out of the news – and campus censorship is a big part of that debate.

Anyone who works in student media will know campus censorship is a big issue. Traditionally student media has been an outlet to criticise the mistakes of Universities and their Unions. But recently there has been a myriad of accusations of  Unions and Universities censoring their papers.

But Southampton isn’t on that list.

New research by Spiked has described Southampton as

A students’ union, university or institution that, as far as we are aware, places no restrictions on free speech and expression – other than where such speech or expression is unlawful.

The research looked into the University’s policy’s on free speech, external speaker policies, bullying and harassment policies, equal opportunities policies. As well as the Student Union’s, no platform policies, safe space policies, and student codes of conduct.

Perhaps Southampton’s disaffiliation with the NUS is to thank.  The NUS’s no platform policy means that  NUS affiliated Universities can not voice ‘extremists’ such as the British National Party and English Defence League. Hence in 2012, when Leeds’ Student Paper, printed an interview with Nick Griffin. Aaron Kiely, the NUS Black Students Officer at the time, wrote an open letter demanding the Editor removed the interview immediately, on the grounds it was voicing fascism.Other NUS policies banned voicing Julie Bindel and George Galloway. It begs the question, where do the limitations lie? If we’re going to ban the BNP, should we ban UKIP too? If we’re not, should we voice ISIS too?

Prestigious Universities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh,, Kings, Leeds, Leicester, Oxford, UCL, SOAS, and Leicester have ranked among the worst Universities on Spiked list, whereas local Universities such as Solent and Winchester have joined Southampton at the top. Only 20% ranked as well as Southampton, meaning 80% limit free speech on campus, interestingly Unions tend to limit free speech more than Universities.  

The Sun was the most popular banned item, followed by Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, unruly sports teams. BDS (a pro-Palestine group) and pro-life groups were also common bans.

There are a number of restrictions placed on free speech under UK law, such as harassment, and incitement to violence – but a lot of these bans do not effect these.

Student media  – which is largely censored – should be an outlet to hold the Union, and the University to account – not a place where free speech should be hindered. The NUS are currently in talks with the National Union of Journalists to produce a student media guide to help settle disputes, and the student publication association are also working on a charter. But the NUS aren’t clear of these censorship charges. In 2012, Leeds’ Student Paper, printed an interview with Nick Griffin. Aaron Kiely, the NUS Black Students Officer at the time, wrote an open letter demanding the Editor removed the interview immediately, on the grounds it was voicing fascism. According to their ‘No Platform’ policy, NUS affiliated Universities can not voice ‘extremists’ such as the BNP, and EDL . Other NUS policies banned voicing Julie Bindel and George Galloway.

Former Editors of Durham’s ‘The Palantine’  have spoke out against the former Vice-Chancellor, Chris Higgins. According to the Times Higher Education, the Editors were warned not to write articles which were critical of the institution,. Daniel Johnson, one of the paper’s Editors in 2011,  published an article about a substantial donation from British American Tobacco to the University, and another over the appointment of David Held as college master, a man with links of the Gaddafi family. Mr Johnson alleged he was asked to resign as an Editor or face serious disciplinary matters,  and feared expulsion.

This is just one example of a plethora of accusations that have come forward recently in student media censorship, and that is only the beginning. When Unions ban newspapers, songs and certain student groups, we’re already in a worrying situation.

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