Exeposé News Issue 635, Page 3 (16 February 2015) and Exeposé News online (20 February 2015)
The University threatened to take legal action against Exeposé, the Students’ Guild and three of its own students after the release of last issue’s front page on social media – before the full extent of the investigation had been revealed.
Issue 634’s front page, now headlined “A first class scandal?” was released on Facebook and Twitter on Monday 2 February. The story, which went on to explore the £3 million spent by the University on staff expenses in 2014, was not due to be circulated until the afternoon following printing delays.
Yet just a few hours after the image was released, the University issued a letter threatening “legal action against the publication, the author, and the editor of the article…” unless changes were made, publication suspended and all front page images removed from social media.
The letter, from Chief Operating Officer Geoff Pringle and addressed directly to Exeposé Editor Harrison Jones, voiced “serious concerns” at the headline, picture and use of the word “scandal,” claiming this would lead readers to believe staff “had wrongfully and fraudulently claimed expenses.”
Suggesting the wording implied “criminal conduct” on behalf of staff, the letter demanded editors “immediately provide a copy of the article for consideration,” giving the University the opportunity to respond.
The story had passed legal checks by the Students’ Guild, but following threats to involve solicitors if the paper was released, Exeposé’s editors decided to alter the article’s wording and reprint so the edition could reach campus sooner.
The University also later raised concerns about the story’s report on emoluments awarded to Vice Chancellor Sir Steve Smith, including a £58,000 “performance related remuneration.”
As the Vice Chancellor’s latest emoluments are yet to be decided, data provided by the University in response to Exeposé’s queries in fact referred to emoluments Smith received the previous year – something not explained in subsequent responses. After learning that the figures were out-of-date, Exeposé edited the article and corrected the error.
A Guild spokesperson commented: “The Students’ Guild is supportive of a free and independent student media which provides valuable student development opportunities as well as a vital platform for students to have their say on all elements of student life.
“In this instance, there were two significant issues of legal non-compliance in the first article version which needed to be addressed to ensure compliance for publication.
“Given Exeposé’s independence, the Guild’s primary role for Exeposé is compliance checking, and we should have identified these legal issues prior to publication.
“The Guild is deeply sorry for the stress this oversight caused to all involved. We have strengthened our compliance mechanisms to maintain editorial independence whilst ensuring that this doesn’t occur again.”
A University spokesperson said: “It was with great regret that we felt it necessary to issue a legal letter to Exeposé. Whilst the University values and supports freedom of speech, it takes unfounded accusations against its employees extremely seriously. These accusations were in breach of Exepose’s own Code of Conduct. Unfortunately, a process failure within the Students’ Guild, Exepose’s publisher, meant this wasn’t picked up when it should have been, leaving the University no other course of action. We will be working with the Guild to ensure this never needs to happen again.”
Despite threats of legal action if the original story was published, University staff began delivering copies of the issue around campus on Monday morning. These copies were hurriedly retrieved by Guild staff.