Since the publication of our article on the investigation by a Students’ Union body of allegations against the Students’ Union newspaper, The University Times, Trinity News has been subjected to a number of criticisms. We answer some of them below.
First of all, we received a report which was compiled by a body consisting of the senior officers of the Students’ Union and which was considered of sufficient importance to be sent to the union’s trustees, who decided not to act on its recommendations. We took a decision that the issues raised in the report were of public interest, in that they related to allegations against elected officials of the SU and the conduct of official bodies of the SU in examining those allegations, all of whom we feel should be accountable to the students who elected them.
We reported on these issues in a fair and balanced way, allowing all of those named in the report to respond fully to allegations made by it. We have no responsibility for what was contained within the report. That is a matter between University Times and the relevant SU bodies. We also independently examined the allegations before reporting on them.
We spoke to twelve people, and contacted several others, who had some knowledge of the report and the events surrounding it and we interviewed all those who were willing to go on the record. The interviews were recorded and those who are now claiming they were misreported may review the recordings of their interviews, as each was recorded in full, or ask that full transcripts be released.
Upon viewing the report we moved to confirm its existence and to evaluate the claims made in it to see if they were worthy of reporting. We contacted Edmund Heaphy and the newspaper’s editor-elect, Sinéad Baker, and in extensive telephone conversations allowed them to comment on the charges reproduced in the article.
Upon investigation of the charges we decided that they had sufficient basis to be worthy of reporting.
There were three hours of recorded interviews, and it is not possible to reproduce all of them. However, we give a few examples below of the transcript of these recordings to demonstrate that we did not misquote individuals.
In The University Times’ editorial response to our article, they stated: “With regards to some of the particular claims, [Colm] O’Halloran as well as Molly Kenny, the TCDSU Education Officer who serves as the Secretary of the TCDSU Electoral Commission, refuted the assertion that The University Times claimed to have video evidence of Caolán Maher distributing free cans.”
The relevant section of the union forum report which we based our article on states: “The University Times, when interviewing one Entertainments candidate about a potential breach of election rules, informed the candidate that they possessed, and were prepared to publish, video evidence of him breaking these rules.”
This event was, according to the report, investigated by the electoral commission, chaired by Colm O’Halloran.
We reproduce here the relevant section of the transcript from one of our phone conversations with O’Halloran:
“Trinity News: It’s also true that the EC [electoral commission] were told that UT told Caolán that they had a video?
Colm O’Halloran: through our investigations we found that out
Trinity News: so that part [of the report] is to the best of your knowledge true? There is nothing there that is false?
Colm O’Halloran: Correct”
Based upon this, along with the testimony of Maher’s campaign manager, we felt justified in reporting on the allegation of a fabrication of evidence.
We also felt that after our inquiry that the allegation of mistreatment of staff had sufficient basis to be reported. The union forum report did not allege that all staff of The University Times had been mistreated, merely that some felt they had been. That two sources who were on the newspaper’s staff during this year were willing to go on the record about their experience does, we believe, show that there was sufficient basis for reporting the charge that some staff felt they had been mistreated. We also published the response of the editor-elect to this allegation.
We do not doubt the testimony of many University Times staff who have described their positive experience of working on the newspaper, nor do we doubt that working on a voluntary basis for a student newspaper can often be stressful – without that stress being the fault of any one person. However we do not believe this a reason to dismiss out of hand the claims of those who say they were mistreated, and we believe that to do so sets a bad precedent.
The allegations of bias in election coverage had already been made public, as had the criticisms of the article on the choral society. That someone had contacted The University Times over a piece concerning a sexual assault which they regarded as inaccurate was confirmed by Heaphy and we gave space to his comment on the matter.
Finally, president-elect Kieran McNulty also claims that we misquoted him. Here is the relevant section from our article: “Speaking to Trinity News, SU president-elect Kieran McNulty said that, regarding the Dining Hall hustings piece, while he thought the coverage was “odd” he couldn’t “really remember off the top of my head if it was biased or not.” He added: “I feel that they represented the rest of the race quite objectively.”
Here is the relevant excerpt from our transcript of the recording:
“I think that particular report on the Dining Hall hustings, I believe, what they were writing incorporated the interviews they did beforehand, but were never really published. That struck me as odd. I don’t really know about the other races – I focused on my own. But that was something which struck as a bit odd. They did quite extensive interviews…maybe there was a few little quotes popped in here and there. I can’t really remember off the top of my head if it was biased or not. I think there was a lot of negative reactions to that piece as a whole. I think as well, kind of. I’m pretty sure Dan and Stephen felt the same. I feel that they represented the rest of the race quite objectively, and TN did as well.”
We leave it to our readers to form their own judgment, but we believe that we did not misrepresent McNulty’s position in our article.
If other individuals believe they were misquoted then we are happy to release full or partial transcripts of their interviews.
In summary, we believe that questions have been raised about the SU and its leadership. We believe that the report was newsworthy and that we conscientiously followed journalistic procedure in establishing a basis for reporting the claims. We think it desirable that the reasoning of the board of trustees be made known. It would also be desirable if the SU officers who sat on the forum and who now criticise the report make known their actions and dispositions during the drafting and the discussion of the report.
Finally, we would like to say that we respect The University Times and the work that its editor and staff have done during the year. We know the editor-elect Sinéad Baker to be an excellent journalist and an admirable person and we wish her luck in the coming year.