Clash of moral duty

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The staff of Oxford’s two student newspapers occasionally forget that the majority of the University’s population have little interest in the inner workings of either publication. Indeed, those who read the papers rarely have reason to concern themselves with what goes into their creation. Yet even those with the most peripheral interest in these matters will have noticed that The Oxford Student was not delivered to JCRs last week. The rivalry between The Oxford Student and Cherwell since the former’s creation in 1992 has, we believe, been one of healthy competition and respect. The immediate reaction of Cherwell to this news was, as in similar situations in the past, a combination of sympathy and interest.Yet while Cherwell condones its competitor for their continued desire to print probing and challenging news, it would seem in this case that mistakes were made.When a university interferes with a student paper it is always the former which has the most to lose. The freedom of the press is rightly a treasured principle, and one of the cornerstones of modern democracy. So when the University uses the threat of a legal injunction to suppress information it is unlikely to endear itself to the student body, and it would be safe to conclude that the stakes have been raised more than a notch.Confidentiality agreements and the general culture of caution surrounding the increasingly litigious sphere of student media mean that the full details of the shredding of The Oxford Student will never be fully revealed. But there is more to this story than the precise details of the case.It is a question of responsibility. In such a case, a newspaper has an obligation to report the truth, a university to protect its students.The extent to which both sides fight so fervently is encouraging, and leads Cherwell to note that both parties, regardless of personal cost or loss, have done exactly what, in the circumstances, they were supposed to do.ARCHIVE: 3rd week MT 2005

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