UT promises more accountability, maintains confidentiality was not breached

Students aired complaints against University Times at town hall event this evening

The editor of the University Times has tonight said she previously “did not fully appreciate” the desire on the part of students to air grievances with the paper. Emer Moreau has said that she would like to establish an external panel that will “likely include a professional journalist, a former editor of the University Times, and a former Editor of Trinity News” to look into ways that the paper can be more accountable. 

She also said the paper would ask the external investigation to look into allegations published in Trinity News that students who acted as sources for a September 2021 article written by Deputy Editor Mairead Maguire had their anonymity compromised.

Both Moreau and Maguire repeated their assertions that no confidential information was shared by Maguire, but admitted that their initial response to the article published by Trinity News was lacking. 

The newspaper’s senior staff addressed these issues at a town hall meeting this evening, meant to give an opportunity for students to put questions to the newspaper’s staff questions and raise concerns.

The event, which was moderated by law professor David Kenny, came following a vote to re-open nominations in the UT editor election, and the circulation of a petition proposing to make the UT editor position voluntary. The petition has not received enough signatures to be put to referendum. 

At the beginning of the event, Maguire addressed the allegations that she leaked confidential information given to her as part of an investigation for a UT article.

She gave an account of the investigation that led to the article. Maguire described it as “the kind of investigation that keeps you up at night”, noting the seriousness of the subject matter.

Maguire said that “the past few weeks have been upsetting for everyone involved”, referencing herself, students who made complaints, and others who read the coverage and subsequent online discussion of the allegations.

She maintained that she had not violated the confidentiality of any sources or leaked any sensitive information. “When the article was published in September none of my sources expressed any problem with the article,” she said.

She described the two articles detailing the allegations against her as “full of falsehoods and incomplete versions of the truth”, and said that “Trinity News could provide no hard evidence because I did not reveal any sources”.

“There were not several Press Council complaints lodged,” Maguire added. Trinity News has seen three Press Council complaints which were submitted related to the UT investigation.

“At every point [UT has] cooperated fully and done what was asked of us,” Maguire added. She also said that she “would like to extend my sympathies to the victims”

“Many of us have felt dehumanised.” 

Maguire mentioned, when originally contacted by Trinity News for comment, that she requested to speak to Trinity News off the record, to “provide background”. Trinity News declined the invitation to speak to Maguire off the record. 

She referenced the petition, and said that she believed the editor position should remain paid. “The paper keeps people informed. Anyone who knows me knows how much I care about the paper.”

“There have been calls for increased accountability,” Maguire added. Saying that measures such as appointing a board of advisors “could help with this.”

At the conclusion of Maguire’s address, the floor was opened up to questions.

Q&A

The first question came from a student who referenced Maguire’s assertion that there were no complaints received at time of publication of the September 2021 article. The student noted that they themselves had made a complaint immediately after the publication of the article, and asked “why I should believe anything else you say” given the omission of that detail from the deputy editor’s testimony.

Maguire replied that “whenever I’m talking about sources I’m talking about people who spoke to on the condition of anonymity”. She acknowledged that the student asking the question had made a complaint to the Press Council, but said “it was resolved at the time.”

Phil President Eleanor Moreland then spoke, saying that while Maguire was interviewing her, the deputy editor told her about allegations of misconduct against a third party. In the interview Maguire named the person whom she surmised Moreland was offering testimony against, something which Moreland herself had not done. The Phil President said she believed it was not appropriate for a journalist to disclose such information.

Maguire responded that she believed this was “standard practice”. Editor Emer Moreau added that the newspaper “didn’t publish anything to do with that” and that she “[didn’t] understand what your concern is”.

Moreland asked: “What if you were wrong? What if I didn’t want to disclose the fucking name? That’s really irresponsible handling of information.”

Moreau then said: “Did [Maguire] get the wrong person?”

Moreland replied: “That’s not the point.”

Another student questioned why it took “a financial risk for UT to comment or properly address” issues regarding the paper’s journalistic integrity that had been consistently raised over previous months. In response, Moreau stated that she had “not fully appreciated that people wanted more channels to air their grievances” with UT, however it “has become clearer now”, prompting the organising of the town hall. 

When asked by the same student why the RON campaign against Maguire was “not enough” to prompt UT to address these issues sooner in a similar way, Moreau responded that she “had to be impartial” during the election. The editor added that the elections “took up a lot of space” and expressed that she was glad UT could take the time to hold this meeting now that the election had passed and “address this in a more constructive way”. 

Yannick Gloster, former Chair of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Council, asked, in light of the University Times suggesting that Trinity News had published the allegations against Maguire to “disparage her campaign”, how UT could believe victims of harassment in their own article while dismissing them in Trinity News’ reporting. 

Maguire responded that because “there were a lot of sources in the original article, I genuinely believe that some victims believe that I did do this, and therefore their response is completely understandable.”

Gloster also asked Maguire why, if she understood the victims’ “frustrations”, had not expressed her sympathy with them at the time of publishing her statement against the allegations. 

Maguire said that the statement was “done quickly” because “we just wanted to immediately say, for the record, these allegations are wholly false.” She then agreed that “we should have shown more empathy with them”.

Moreau added that in the University Times’ own statement about the accusations, “we responded to it right away”, but that they “took care writing that statement, we didn’t just throw it out”. She did then agree that the UT “did not acknowledge enough the upset and the harm that Trinity News’ article could potentially cause victims.” 

Moreau stated that “If nobody thinks that the UT is trustworthy then we shouldn’t exist.”

A student then asked about the alleged spreading of sources stories across campus saying: “Information that was provided directly to the editor has been spread all over campus.” She also alleged that UT has “pivoted” to “spin” the victims “as liars” and asked what the editors would say to future victims who are “too afraid” to come forward. 

Maguire began by saying that she maintains that she “did not spread those stories” and she doesn’t know “if i was the only person told these stories”. “I’m not calling them liars”. She said that there “are only a few” sources in the Trinity News article.

She continued saying “people don’t come forward with their stories of abuse and lie about it”. 

The student then pressed the deputy editor asking “if these people were credible sources when you talked to them” why “would they not be credible sources when they spoke to TN”. To this Maguire said; “I think two things can be true at once.”

Maguire went on to say that she believes “some sources think that I really did do this” and that “a lot of the quotes in the trinity news articles about how they felt”, she is “sure that’s very, very real”. 

Moreau labelled this allegation as “one of the most serious accusations you can make against a journalist” and said that she was “satisfied that Mairead did not breach any sources”. “I was not privy to the identity of her sources.”

Sierra Muller-Owens then asked if Maguire has consulted the sexual consent research assistant or any “trauma informed professional” during the writing of the initial article. 

Maguire responded saying “no” and thanked Mueller-Owens for raising the issue. “That’s not something I did at the time.”

Former Ents sabbatical candidate Nadia raised issues with the handling of the publication of her last name in various UT articles over the course of the campaign after she raised safety concerns. She put forward a timeline of events in which she alleged that UT published her surname in their print issue after she had asked them not to. 

Nadia alleged that Moreau “didn’t care that much” when this issue was raised, an accusation which Moreau strongly denied. Nadia also asked UT and Moreau for an apology for their handling of the situation, for them to change her name on their website to just Nadia and said that it showed “a complete lack of empathy”.

Nadia also noted that “the other candidates had zero problem” with the exclusion of her surname and she showed the editor screenshots of correspondence to that effect. Also, Nadia noted that she “messaged [UTs] other editors” about the issue and “surely that is something to alert [Moreau]” to the issue.

Moreau said that she can “only imagine how difficult that is for you”, but she “was very hurt by what [Nadia] said online” about the situation. Moreau said that she “absolutely” empathises with Nadia. 

Moreau said that UT’s print circulation is “much smaller than online” and “for clarity for the reader” she “had to put what was on the ballot”. Moreau said that she changed it “once she got word” that Nadia’s name on the ballot had been changed. 

Moreau said that it “would have been helpful” if Nadia had “come to [her] directly. She said she “didn’t do it on purpose” and she said she is “sorry [she] didn’t change it in print”. Moreau also notes that “print weekend is so hard” and she “wasn’t thinking straight”.

Zoe Cummins, Education Officer-elect of TCDSU accused Moreau of “borderline harassment”. Cummins said that she received multiple emails and five phone calls on a number she did not give to Moreau over the course of six hours, regarding information that the University Times received that she had been responsible for starting the petition to cut the funding of the paper. 

This information was ultimately untrue, and UT decided not to publish the article. Cummins said that she was told that the paper would publish an article naming her as the founder of the petition “with or without comment” an hour after she was contacted and argued that the incident was emblematic of poor treatment of sources in the paper.

Moreau responding to Cummins saying: “I really don’t make it my business to ring people multiple times unless it’s important”, adding “news doesn’t wait”, but said that she believes she has a good understanding with the union’s current sabbatical team on when it’s acceptable to contact them outside of business hours. 

Ethnic Minorities Officer and President-elect Gabi Fullam accused UT of a “long history of ignoring complaints”, citing what she sees as their use of “racist passive language” in the past, and asked what structural changes the UT will implement to ensure that students are respected in general and that discussion of racial issues is better in future.

Moreau said that she has always been “conscious that racism is a very real issue on campus” and that she wants to “continue highlighting it”.

Moreau emphasised that she is “absolutely willing to have more constructive conversations about what we can do”. She pointed towards plans to ask external investigators for advice and including “at least two working journalists” on the UT’s planned advisor board.

Moreau also stated that people are always able to “air their criticism” with the paper: “If people wish to complain in an official capacity the procedure is to email the editor, if people don’t know that, that’s fine. If you wish to complain, email me, and obviously the press council is there.”

Student Catherine O’Brien then asked did UT staff believe the burden of dealing with serious issues should lie with “untrained students”, regarding an editorial published by UT following Maguire’s original article. This editorial called on student-run society committees to address deep-rooted issues in society power structures. 

Moreau answered that “thus far from our vantage point it seemed to me” that “students themselves” had been “unable to resolve these problems”. Moreau continued to emphasise that she wants all students to “enjoy themselves in college societies”, and that the “current administration didn’t create those problems”. 

Moreau continued: “Once it had been laid bare those problems are there … I hoped and we hoped that they wouldn’t stand by.”

The student pressed that “students can only do so much”, and it had “continuously been stated online” that it was the responsibility of students, which is “incredibly hurtful and harmful”. 

Moreau answered by saying that “there was just a culture”, and that she didn’t “really see a scenario where the junior dean can fix a very long standing [culture of bullying]”. 

Maguire followed up by stating that “it is hard for students to have to deal with this”. 

“We are not underestimating how difficult this is,” she continued. 

Moreau continued that “there should be zero tolerance for any abuse or harassment”, but that she didn’t think a cultural shift within societies “is something that the junior dean implements”.

TCDSU LGBT+ Rights Officer (LGBTRO) Jenny Maguire then spoke. She mentioned how she had previously been a member of UT staff, and her first article for the paper had been published opposite an ad for the Irish Times. The LGBTRO noted the Irish Times’ coverage of trans issues—which are the subject of an ongoing boycott—as well as an editorial in the national newspaper about the murder of Ashling Murphy which was criticised as misogynistic.

She said: “UT is a student newspaper…it must put the welfare of all students in college first.” She added that she had contacted UT to discuss the issue—as well as the paper’s continued printing with the Irish Times and trans inclusion in the paper more generally—three times between early December 2021 and January 2022 but had not received a response.

The LGBTRO asked “how UT plans to support the welfare of students and put their wellbeing first, in particular trans students? How will you include more trans voices in what you call an excellent news source?”

Moreau responded by saying that she “understand[s] the hurt felt by the trans community” and she does “want to switch printer”. “It’s just pretty difficult, I don’t have the resources at the moment to resign the paper to a tabloid format.”

Moreau, the deputy editor, and the assistant editor said they would be open to “any suggestions as to how we can make things better, in a practical sense.”

They said they would appoint another LGBT correspondent to the paper in future, and said that “our greatest weapon is our coverage” of trans issues.

The LGBTRO said that “respectfully, I’ve had three meetings” and while she was glad the issue was being acknowledged, “where do we see that? There has to be action taken.”

“You have to be unapologetic in the student voices you want represented,” she continued. “Think about the vulnerable students on campus”

As announced this afternoon, three candidates are to contest the UT editor election for the 2022/23 TCDSU sabbatical team. 

The students running for the position are Deputy Editor Maguire, Neal Manning and Ailbhe Noonan. This is the second time that the election will be run after students initially voted to re-open nominations (RON). Maguire was the sole candidate in the first run, receiving 40.6% of the vote. RON received 59.4% of the vote.

This year’s election marked the first time a deputy editor has not been elected to the position of UT editor since the role became a sabbatical officership, as well as the first time TCDSU voters have voted to re-open nominations for a sabbatical position since that ballot option was added to all elections approximately 20 years ago.

The election is due to take place between April 4 and 7.

Reporting by Jack Kennedy, Shannon Connolly, Finn Purdy, Kate Henshaw, David Wolfe, Ellen Kenny, and Ella Sloane.