The editorial independence of Pluto, University of Central Lancashire's student newspaper, has been called in to question following the treatment of a story in Friday's (12th October) edition about a Student Union Education Officer who made an online 'joke' about missing 5-year-old April Jones.
Elected Student Affairs Committee member Joey Guy Tweeted the joke - even after writing a news piece for Pluto's website about the missing April Jones. Despite the significance of the Education Officers actions, the story on it wasn't in the news section of Pluto, it was instead placed 11 pages in to Friday's paper on a comments page, in a separate section subtly dubbed "In other news..."
Following criticism of the stories placement in the newspaper, a Pluto writer revealed the decision was taken out of the staff's hands by UCLan Students Union. Deputy Editor Faye Grima revealed on Facebook, "any issues with where it was placed needs to be brought up with the union as it was out of the papers, or those who write for its hands."
This was disputed by Comment Editor Luke Beardsworth, who Tweeted that the story was on page 11 because Pluto "didn't want to bump other stories" - those stories included reviews of Pizza Express, theatre show Chicago and the book trilogy The Hunger Games.
Pluto contributor Chris McBriarty contradicts Beardsworth's version of events, Tweeting that the story was originally placed next to a story which was on page four - that story was about UCLan SU President Edd Graham-Hyde who told critics on a Facebook status, "don't hide behind the anonymous feedback cards" in relation to feedback received on anonymous forms distributed by the union for students to suggest ways to improve the union.
To add to Pluto staff divides, it's also understood that UCLan Students Union President Edd Graham-Hyde attended the news meeting on Monday (8th October), stating that he didn't want the story about his Facebook status rant or the story about Education Officer Joey Guy's Tweets about April Jones printed in Pluto at all. A direct attempt of influence and censorship by the Students Union president raises many questions about Pluto's independence from the union.
On Pluto's website it claims it "is the independent student newspaper of the University of Central Lancashire" but being funded by the Students Union and edited by Media Officer Sophie Bennett who sits on the Student Affairs Committee presents a clear conflict of interest.
Pluto's independence would mean it being produced with an ethos of being 'by the students, for the students', not 'by the students, for the students as long as it doesn't hold the Students Union committee members to account for their actions.'
In this case, a representative of UCLan students acted in a grossly unprofessional, immoral and potentially illegal manner. It's in UCLan student's interests to know about it, which includes it being given coverage that matches its real value.
The bi-weekly newspaper gave the story 268 words on page 11 of the 16 page paper. Although the article vaguely discussed the Tweeting, it didn't disclose that April Jones was the subject of the Tweet. It was the only story in the paper without a named writer in the by-line.
Having breached several rules in the Articles of Government that was bound to UCLan Student Union staff and members by a 2008 referendum, Joey Guy has had his membership privileges withdrawn and he's under the university disciplinary procedure. There have been calls for Joey Guy to resign from his paid position in UCLan Students Union.
This follows the news that last week 19-year-old Matthew Woods from Chorley, Lancashire was jailed for Facebook posts about April Jones. Woods was deemed to have 'sent by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive.'
Many feel that Pluto should apologise for the treatment of the story, editor Sophie Bennett shouldn't be influenced by her role in the Students Union when making editorial decisions (if not then appoint an independent editor) and the Students Union should guarantee not to attempt to censor or influence Pluto content in future.
If these can't be met then it's reasonable to expect Pluto to state that it is in fact a UCLan Students Union newspaper, not an independent student newspaper as it claims on its official website.
"Right from the start we said that while this paper would be funded by the Students' Union, it would be editorially independent from it, even if that independence often led to clashes with the Union."
- Dara O' Briain speaking about his time at University College Dublin's newspaper, The University Observer.