Ireland: IFJ backs University Times coverage of hazing amid threats to its future

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has today expressed its support for The University Times, (UT), which is under threat of losing its funding as a result of a backlash against a piece of pioneering investigative journalism into degrading and humiliating initiation rituals by a secretive society at a famous Dublin university.

Eleanor O'Mahony - The University Times

The independent newspaper published in association with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union carried an article detailing its investigation into the activities of members of the all- male Knights of Campanile in the March 19th 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.”

The newspaper has been accused of breaching ethical standards by the editor of rival newspaper, Trinity News while the Students Union has called a referendum which could starve the newspaper of funds, forcing it to close.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “We fully endorse the stand taken by the National Union of Journalists and extend solidarity to the Editor and editorial team at The University Times. The Irish system of press regulation has an international reputation for fairness and independence. In the circumstances we would hope that the referendum is postponed and a more, appropriate investigation carried out. To withdraw funding from an award-winning newspaper on the basis of controversy over a legitimate news story would set a very bad example. Trinity College Dublin has a deserved reputation for scholarship and liberal values. Neither the practices exposed or the threat to the newspaper are consistent with the traditions of Trinity College.”

Professor Chris Frost, Chair of the National Union of Journalists (UK and Ireland) Ethics Council  has strongly defended the journalists involved. Rival newspaper Trinity News has criticised the tape recording of the ceremony from outside the room but Prof Frost says there was “a clear public interest” in covert coverage of a secret society.

He said: “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.”

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

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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