Edinburgh students' union accused of attack on press freedom over gag order on newspaper

The University of Edinburgh Students' Union has been accused of an attack on press freedom after taking legal action against the publication of an article criticising its leadership.

The Student, one of the UK’s oldest student newspapers, was prevented from publishing the article after Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) obtained a court order banning publication of material suggesting  – among other things – that it was “poorly governed”.

The Student had planned to publish leaked information from a disciplinary hearing concerning a EUSA officer.

In September rival Edinburgh student newspaper The Journal published allegations that the individual was suspended for ten weeks following accusations of gross misconduct.

Daniel Swain and Nina Bicket, co-editors of The Student, said EUSA's decision to seek a gagging order showed it “would rather spend valuable time and money on suppressing the voice of students – and stifling the freedom of the press – than allowing information which we are convinced every student has a right to know to come to light”.

Responding to the criticism, EUSA president James McAsh insisted the organisation had a duty of care to its staff, and was obliged to protect their reputation. In a statement issued by EUSA he said: “Although we are a democratic organisation, there are certain legal obligations that we are required to adhere to.”

The Student was forced to withhold 4,000 printed copies of the paper. It was also ordered to pay EUSA's costs by the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh, but Swain and Bicket said no request has yet been received.

It is unclear if they will yet be made to do so – the newspaper has been funded through EUSA since 1992.

Callum Leslie, student politics editor at The Journal, suggested EUSA had previously threatened to withdraw its funding, and said the decision to now take legal action was “very worrying”. 

The controversy is not the first to face the newspaper, whose alumni include Gordon Brown and the late Robin Cook. In 2011 the university banned publication of a front page calling the appointment of Princess Anne as Chancellor “a fucking disgrace”. 

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