The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) ethics council has released a statement defending the methods employed by the University Times (UT) to investigate a hazing ritual by the Knights of the Campanile.
UT’s decision to record outside an on-campus residence without the knowledge of the hazing’s participants has received significant backlash from the student body and lead to the initiation of a referendum to cut the newspaper’s funding.
In the NUJ statement, ethics council chair, Professor Chris Frost, said that the newspaper’s methods were “beyond reproach and consistent with the highest professional standards of public interest, investigative journalism”.
Frost outlined the NUJ’s reasoning for defending the publication: “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.”
“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.”
In response to UT’s reporting, a referendum was triggered by a petition signed by over 500 students, which calls for the salary and on-campus accommodation given to the UT Editor to be cut, alongside a reduction in production costs to €3,000.
The NUJ stated that the upcoming referendum could “starve the newspaper out of existence”. Prof Frost suggested that Knights of the Campanile members report UT to the Irish Press Council, “if those involved really are concerned about issues of journalistic ethics”.
Prof Frost also argued: “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.”
Trinity News published an editorial criticising the secret recording as unethical and called for UT’s Editor, Eleanor O’Mahony, to resign so the publication can regain the student body’s trust. However, Trinity News has not called for the defunding of UT or called for a referendum on the matter, as claimed by the NUJ.
On February 27, University Times reporters allegedly witnessed an initiation ceremony by the Knights of the Campanile, which began under the Campanile before moving to the on-campus residence of the president of the society, Ben Arrowsmith. According to the newspaper, UT reporters left a recording device outside the door of the apartment and waited “upstairs out of sight for over an hour and a half”.
According to UT the attendees were taunted and jeered, and instructed to “bend over”, “get in the shower”, “open your mouth” and asked “why aren’t you on your knees?”. “Groaning, gagging and retching sounds” were allegedly heard emanating from the apartment. Members were also instructed to eat butter and told “HIV is going on your toast tomorrow”.
UT had not published their report on the hazing when Trinity News learned that UT had been reported to the Junior Dean for secretly recording outside an on-campus apartment. When Trinity News contacted their publication for comment, UT published their report.
The University Times have defended themselves in a series of articles where they cite various legal precedents for their actions. In response, three Trinity Law School professors wrote an op-ed for Trinity News to say that they do not believe UT’s legal defence has merit.
Referendum campaigning will take place between April 8 and 11, with voting taking place on April 10 and 11, alongside elections for the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) sabbatical officer positions.