Student journalists have been gagged by a contract devised by their student union after exposing the controversial activities of a student union officer, The Huffington Post UK can reveal.
Budding reporters at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) were slapped with a code of conduct and ethical standards letter at a meeting on Wednesday evening. In the guidelines, any student involved in the union's radio, television or newspaper publications are told they are forbidden to speak to outsiders without permission.
Volunteers who work for the radio arm of the student media were told at the meeting "read this and sign it". One student told HuffPost UK the code of conduct was "draconian".
The student journalists, dubbed "wannabe amateurs" by the president of the student union Edward Graham-Hyde, are furious at the gagging attempt, claiming their newspaper's independence has been severely compromised.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, Graham-Hyde said the guidelines were not a new idea.
"It was all decided way before the [Joey Guy] article", he said.
He confirmed that media officer Sophie Bennett had written the guidelines and refused to comment further.
In the guidelines the students are told they cannot comment or report on any student union officers without first going through Bennett, despite Graham-Hyde insisting the paper is "controlled by students":
The guidelines were passed onto HuffPost UK by a concerned member of the student media team, who wished to remain anonymous, days after the education officer was exposed for tweeting a sick April Jones joke.
On Thursday, we revealed Joey Guy had been suspended following two jokes he made concerning April Jones and Jimmy Savile, which were published on his Twitter account.
Reporters at UCLan's student paper wrote a story on the incident, which was originally scheduled to appear on page four of the 16-page newspaper.
When Pluto was printed, the story was buried under the "in other news" section on page 11. It is still not clear who made the decision to move the expose and president Graham-Hyde has repeatedly rebuffed attempts to find out who is responsible.
Graham-Hyde has publicly said he sees no problem with union officers interfering with the freedom of the student paper in order to protect Guy:
The guidelines include a section which anyone wishing to be involved UCLan's student media has to sign.
Bennett defended the use of the new code of conduct, saying: "It is to underpin our determination to approach the job professionally and to ensure the media team fully understand the requirements and values we expect from them."
The guidelines read:
Individual members of the media groups shall not hold themselves out to speak on behalf of their group by reference to their position title or otherwise without the express written permission of the media officer, or their chosen representative.
Media groups will not comment or report on UCLan and UCLAN SU members of staff unless it is in the public interest, in which case the public interest reason will be formerly recorded and logged with the media officer.
When researching potential articles/news stories media groups will be sensitive to making use of information gained via social media.
Media officer Sophie Bennett (second left), president Ed Graham-Hyde (centre) and education officer Joey Guy (second from right)
The guidelines, which had never been seen before by any of the students at the radio meeting, state: "You are also subject to Bye Law [sic] Two of the Students' Union and University conduct policies."
"Bylaw Two" concerns disciplinary action which can be taken against a student who is accused of misconduct. There is no mention in the bylaw about student media, nor is there any mention of code of conduct and ethical standards.
Media officer Bennett, who is a full-time paid student union officer, is part of the same executive as Joey Guy.
Bennett added: "There are conflicts of interest in any role; it is always a question of managing them.
"I personally, or my team, have never prevented any student talking directly to other media
"We have run stories questioning decisions made by the officers and the Union but there is a difference when the union is involved in formal proceedings with individual officers or staff who obviously has the right to due consideration."