There is an old saying that the one way to ensure that everyone reads/hears/sees something is to ban it.
As new students arrive for their very first term at the University of Sheffield this morning the familiar sight of their award winning student newspaper, Forge Press may be missing as the university moved to ban the publication from its student villages and other residential accommodation. This is an attempt to prevent students from reading the paper’s exposé of the university’s controversial change to its hiring policy.
However with Forge’s online presence how can the university hope to stop the story getting out? It has already been doing the rounds on Twitter since last night and given the natural curiosity it will inevitably engender once students hear its been banned its highly unlikely that many students at Sheffield won’t have heard something.
The decision to remove the newspaper in the halls and ban any Forge Press presence at the opening weekend (although their counterparts Forge TV and Forge Radio have been given approval) has raised eyebrows and questions about censorship with the university accused of suppressing it’s students journalistic freedom to hide its own corruption. However in the age of the internet how can they hope to properly censor Forge Press when they cannot stop students reading it online?
Speaking to Wannabe Hacks late last night the Editor-in-Chief Alisha Rouse said that they will continue to distribute to all the other university venues such as the Student Union, the libraries etc as normal but will launch a campaign against censorship and university corruption if it attempts to stop them distributing altogether.
She says this has given the Forge Press team an opportunity to be a “little brave and bold” and to create “a tease campaign (which) will achieve so much more than putting newspapers in university accommodation ever would and will hopefully create interesting dialogue in the student media world about the place and practices of student news outlets.”
In a sense, banning the print version of the paper from being distributed is a bit like locking the door after the horse has bolted. Now the story is on the website it has broken and there is nothing the university can do to stop it. Their attempt to block the story from reaching new students by restricting part of the print distribution hasn’t even slowed it down. In fact, it has inadvertently increased its exposure to returning students and the wider media.
Now that the media industry is increasingly becoming digital first and print second is there any point in organisations, whether universities, governments or private businesses, trying to stop the print half of a publication when the online section remains untouched? As more and more people get their news exclusively online, short of filing a super injunction, is there really any way to stop journalists exposing damaging but truthful stories in a free speech democracy?
It would be naive to stay that censorship is a thing of the past just because of the digital age, as the notoriety of the super injunction proves the legal profession is still coming up with new and innovative ways to gag journalists, but online media represents a chance for the industry to really assert itself in a new way. It can now circumvent old gag tricks like this one and renew itself as a force for good in exposing the wrong doings of its institutions.
14th September, 5pm – UPDATE. Forge Press have released a statement saying that the University of Sheffield have now agreed to allow them to distribute newspapers in the halls of residence.
Do you think that the University of Sheffield made a mistake attempting to ban Forge Press’ distribution? Do you think that online media makes their decision meaningless? Tweet us your opinion @wannabehacks.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look