Last week’s edition of The Oxford
Student was pulled after the University threatened Oxford Student Services Ltd
(OSSL), the paper’s owners, with an injunction against its publication.The action pre-empted an article that
concerned an ongoing proctoral investigation into an allegation of harassment
brought by a student against another undergraduate. Internal investigations of
this kind are governed by the University’s procedural regulations, which ensure
that the confidentiality of those involved is maintained.An Oxford University
spokesperson told Cherwell that although the University
proctors had been aware that The Oxford Student was running the story they only
intervened at a later stage, when it became apparent that the article contained
specific details from a confidential report on the investigation. Having initially refused to pull the
story, editorial staff agreed to the measure after the University sought legal
advice on the matter. OSSL was informed that the University was able to go to
court that evening to prevent the distribution of the issue.OUSU President Emma Norris stated,
“The decision to stop distribution was made jointly by the publisher and
editorial staff and agreed by all involved.”  As the issue had already been printed,
the papers themselves were confiscated and sent to the University’soffices in Wellington Square. They will remain there
until all copies can be destroyed. The Oxford
Studentwill continue to be published as normal
for the rest of the term. The paper costs an estimated £3,000
to print per issue, but the potential cost to OSSL of the paper being withdrawn,
including revenue from advertising sales, could exceed £10,000.The University gave its reason
for requiring the paper’s withdrawal in an official press release: “Publishingdetails of such a case would be
highly detrimental both to the conduct of a fair disciplinary process and, potentially,
to the welfare of the students involved in the case.” In relation to the details of the
story the University stated, “The edition carried confidential details of an ongoing
University disciplinary case against an undergraduate, which had been released
to the paper in breach of the University’s procedures and without the consent
of the individuals involved.”OSSL has the authority to veto articles
if they are in breach of the law, but Norris asserted that “other than this The
OxStu is editorially independent”. One source has informed Cherwell that confidentiality agreements have
been signed by those involved in the production of the article, preventing
details of the story from being revealed. Both OUSU and the University have
refused to comment on this matter.Rob Lewis, Editor of The Oxford Student,
confirmed that “a story had to be pulled after a legal matter was brought to
our attention,” but declined to comment further. While the paper made efforts to
maintain the anonymity of the students involved, the University has expressed
concern that “in a close community such as a university, anonymity cannot be
guaranteed simply by changing names, particularly when extensive details of a
case are published.” A University spokesperson
defended the decision, saying that if details of the investigation had been circulated,
it may have lead students to lose faith in the University’s justice system,
which operates entirelyconfidentially. They further explained that in normal
legal proceedings no paper would be able to publish documents being submitted
to the court during a hearing, hence the University’s action over its own
internal justice proceedings.No legal action was taken against
editorial staff, but the University may have done so had the issue been distributed.
Norris said, “No one is liable to legal action as a result of this story, as
the paper was not distributed so no law could have been breached.”ARCHIVE: 3rd week MT 2005