University Times in libel row

By Caitriona Murphy & Aoife Crowley

The University Times Editor Tom Lowe was forced to issue a full apology following the publication of his Trinity Top Twenty supplement.

The Trinity Twenty ranks various student figures in the College community in terms of perceived spending power, influence and prestige. Education Officer Jennifer Fox’s entry at number three caused the libel controversy for Communications Officer Lowe.

Fox’s entry contained a number of unsubstantiated rumours about her personal life, including an insinuation of a romantic relationship with Vice-Provost Patrick Prendergast, which Lowe later declared had no basis in fact.

Prendergast responded by threatening to sue the paper and demanded a retraction of all copies of the University Times which were in circulation. Following negotiations, the paper’s staff agreed to gather all distributed copies, and go through each one with a marker to censor the paragraph in question.

An apology was later issued online: “We wish to state unequivocally that this assertion has no basis in fact. We would like to apologise to all parties for this lapse of editorial responsibility and any damage or hurt that it has caused”. The Trinity Twenty supplement was not added to the paper’s online archive.

Lowe confirms that he takes editorial responsibility for the article, which was written without credit to any writer. He acknowledges that the incident was an “editorial oversight” and that he had tried to make “too much of a splash” with his first issue. He admits he had learned a lot from the error. He claims that the supplement was supposed to be “tongue-in-cheek”, and that “some people just hadn’t taken it that way”.

Lowe acknowledges that the tone was “uneven” across the Trinity Twenty supplement, many articles of which were cut off mid-sentence due to poor layout.

Lowe was “forced to defend the honour of his paper” at a Students’ Union meeting discussing the matter. Despite this, Lowe continues to stress the editorial independence of The University Times. Currently the paper is primarily funded from the upwards of ¤300,000 Students’ Union budget.

In response to the article, Fox states that the sabbatical officers had “had it out” and that Lowe had “made a pledge to keep overly gossipy comments of that nature out of the paper”.

She comments that The University Times should provide “critique, not criticism” of the Students’ Union, but that the editorial independence of the paper was of “key importance”.
Patrick Prendergast declined to comment on the matter.