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NUJ ethics council supports University Times coverage of hazing in Trinity College Dublin

25 March 2019

The NUJ’s ethics council has strongly defended the professional standards of The University Times (UT), the independent newspaper published in association with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union. 

Council chair Prof Chris Frost described the way editorial staff investigated the practice of hazing by a secretive male-only society at Trinity College, Dublin as being "beyond reproach and consistent with the highest professional standards of public interest, investigative journalism."

The investigation into activities by members of the Knights of Campanile was published in the 19 March edition of the newspaper. 

University Times reporters stood close to the apartment of the president of the society and overheard taunts, jeers and degrading insults as an initiation ritual was conducted.

According to the report: members were "taunted, jeered at and instructed to 'bend over'" and to "get in the shower". Members were told to "open your fucking mouth" and asked, "why aren’t you on your knees".

Reporters from the newspaper heard groaning, gagging and retching sounds emerging from the apartment. At one stage members were forced to eat butter and members were told "HIV is going on your toast tomorrow."

As a result of the investigation the newspaper has been accused of breaching ethics standards by the editor of rival newspaper, Trinity News, while the students union has called a referendum which could starve the newspaper out of existence.

Chris Frost expressed grave concern at the basis for the referendum and warned that the forced closure of The University Times would undermine the reputation of student journalism and of Trinity College Dublin.Frost is the former Head of Journalism at Liverpool John Moore University. He is past chair of the Association for Journalism Education, which represents most schools of journalism in UK and Ireland's higher education institutions. Frost has also given evidence to parliament about press regulation on several occasions, and also to the Leveson Inquiry. His intervention undermines the claims that the investigation methods used by UT staff were akin to the unethical behavior exposed by the Leveson Inquiry.

A recording device was left outside the apartment. Editor Eleanor O’Mahony says the device was intended for verification purposes - the apartment door was wedged open and the initiation ceremony was audible from the corridor.

Chris Frost said:

"Secret or secretive societies with limited, invitation-only membership with ritual initiation ceremonies and degrading humiliation of noviciates are a danger to the general public as they bring with them an unreasoning loyalty to a small group of people, usually an elite, often with a sex or class-based membership. Such unreasoning loyalty is already evident in some of the supporters of the Knights and emphasises the dangers of such societies. 
"Because such groups are damaging to society generally, as they maintain the power and influence of that elite by exercising control and limiting membership, they are a suitable subject for newspapers and other media. Exposing privilege and undue loyalty to such groups is important as they can lead to disproportionate and damaging outcomes. It is right that the media should expose such groups for what they are and right that a student newspaper should expose a student society of this sort.
"It is perfectly acceptable journalism to use a tape recorder to record conversations that can be heard in a corridor. The overriding public interest is obvious, given that this is a high-profile society with a long history and large membership. Initiation rituals, (often called hazing in an attempt to disguise their true nature) of the type described have no place on a university campus.
"If those involved really are concerned about issues of journalistic ethics then a complaint should be made to the Irish Press Council, the appropriate body to investigate such an incident. Both the Trinity News and University Times subscribe to the Press Council of Ireland's code. Principle 3 of the code of practice clearly recognises the use of subterfuge by journalists acting in the public interest and could have been asked to investigate this story.
"However, the newspaper's opponents have attempted to block funding and close the newspaper, making it clear that closure is their aim, not a concern about ethics. The proposed referendum has profound implications for the reputation of student journalism and the reputation of Trinity College Dublin. 
"This is an appalling attempt to curtail a free press, the thin end of a wedge the Irish media can ill afford to permit. Ireland is a country with a strong record on press freedom with a sound media regulatory system. 
"As chair of the NUJ’s ethics council I condemn this attempt to gag the newspaper and promise the NUJ's full support for a free press in Ireland, and indeed the rest of the world."  

Read the University Times story - Knights of the Campanile Implicated in On-Campus Hazing Evening

Access the statement from the University Times editorial staff about the criticism of the story - A Note to Our Readers Regarding Our Knights of Campanile Reporting

University Times article explaining the controversy and the recent referendum called - Referendum Called to Defund The University Times

Press Council of Ireland Code of Practice

Principle 3 − Fair Procedures and Honesty

3.1 The press shall strive at all times for fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information.

3.2 The press shall not obtain information, photographs or other material through misrepresentation or subterfuge, unless justified by the public interest.

3.3 Journalists and photographers must not obtain, or seek to obtain, information and photographs through harassment, unless their actions are justified in the public interest.

Tags: , ireland, dublin, press council of ireland, ethics council, ethics, public interest, public interest journalism, university times, trinity college