Following allegations that Felix has been prevented by College from printing, I would like to take the opportunity to reassure readers that it was solely an editorial decision to not run the piece on the Careers Advisory Service.
This was based on the fact that there were several factual inaccuracies in the piece. A full written response had been provided by College, highlighting the inaccuracies, however the revised version of the article had not yet addressed these. The decision not to run the piece in subsequent issues, again entirely an editorial choice, was because of concerns over the factual accuracy.
At no point has Felix been “implicitly threatened” with any legal action, and at no point has College sought to prevent Felix from printing. A full editorial in next week’s issue will expand on this – The Editor
In last week’s Felix, I had intended to publish an article which exposed what I believe are serious problems with Imperial’s Careers Advisory Service. It detailed how the service has been susceptible to privatisation, it explained why so much of our career advice is just advertising for the financial sector and it criticised the College for allowing such an important service to become biased towards wealthy corporations.
Before the article could be printed, however, a member of College staff emailed the Felix editor asking him not to publish it. She said that it contained accusations “which could be considered defamatory” in its “serious claims about a College service and its staff”. The email implicitly threatened Felix with legal action if it printed the article. Understandably, it was not published.
This raises very serious questions about the independence of Felix, and its ability to report on mistakes, lies and corruption within the College. After all, what is a student newspaper for, if not to print stories like the one in question? Are we simply meant to paraphrase press releases from the College and the Union? Are we nothing more than a long-winded advertisement for those with power?
Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the ability to publicly criticise authority. It means the ability for a writer to publish inconvenient truths without fear of reprisal, and the ability for him/her to criticise anyone without the looming threat of legal action.
Whenever I print an article or blog post critical of a person or institution, I am asked why I did not raise the issue with them privately beforehand. It is, they say, easier to solve problems without making them public. This may be true, but I do not write about these issues simply because I want them to be solved. I write also because I want to expose the behaviour of those in power, and I want students to be aware of the true motives of the people they are supposed to trust. If all issues were solved privately, then students would be made ignorant of events about which I believe they have a right to know.
Imperial is a company like any other, and therefore seems to put its financial wellbeing ahead of the welfare of its students. Consider, for instance, the issue of coursework feedback. Students had been complaining for years about the quality of the feedback, but it was not until Imperial’s dramatic drop in the most recent University league tables that the College actually did anything about the problem.
So it is with any such issue. Formally complaining, no matter how forcefully, will not work. We must shout angrily in any way possible about how terrible the issue is. We must publish articles, write blogs, inform national newspapers. We must attempt to give the College “brand” a bad reputation, and thereby make ignoring our complaints financially unwise. And if this means resorting to defamation then so be it.
The importance of student journalism in this uphill struggle should not be underestimated. It is by far the best method we have for rallying support behind a cause and, evidently, for troubling the establishment. But when student journalism is silenced, Universities can get away with anything. Who but Felix can constantly question Imperial’s authority and actions?
Imperial College is a University of science and, as such, ought to be a place where criticism is accepted, and never silenced. If the College disagreed with my article - even if they thought it was factually incorrect - they could easily have written a response to be printed the following week. That is how debate works in newspapers and magazines. It does not work by banning controversial writing.
Student newspapers, in particular, have traditionally been the voice of opposition at Universities, but it appears that our University would be happier if we printed only those articles to which they had given their approval. What kind of newspaper behaves in such a way? How would we react if The Guardian only printed articles which had received the government’s consent?
In the words of George Orwell, “Everything in our age conspires to turn the writer, and every other kind of artist as well, into a minor official, working on themes handed down from above and never telling what seems to him the whole of the truth.”
This small battle has been lost, but we will not be swayed by Imperial’s apparent attempt to silence criticism. From now on, we will seek out College scandals with renewed vigour, and we won’t forget what the role of the journalist really is: to speak the truth to power.
A fully referenced version of this article is available at rustylight.blogspot.com