Censor This

James Skuse and Amy Evans are at it again.

Student Activities Officer Amy Evans has attempted to censor Cheese Grater reporting of the misconduct of Democracy and Communications Officer James Skuse.

Evans, who listed “transparency” as one of her manifesto priorities when running for office, cited the UCL Policy on Bullying and Harassment in order to suppress an article intended for publication in CG Issue 32 titled ‘J’ASKUSE’.

The article was based on comments made by Skuse on Twitter (in a personal capacity, but displaying his Union position) and during a filmed interview with Cheese Grater editor John Bell. It asked whether tweets such as “sitting in the graduation venue sweating my balls off in this stupidly hot gown. Let me out of here!” and “might need a jaegerbomb to sort out this hangover #sabblife” paint UCL and UCLU in the best possible light.

Skuse had also tweeted: “I’m off to graduate some lucky Archeologists [sic] and Historians of Art. Spent my morning moving meetings because of the Roxy”. During the interview, Skuse was asked whether alcohol had affected his work, to which he replied “no,” merely “the effects of alcohol”. The article then suggested that in some organisations publicly broadcasting that “the effects of alcohol” had an impact on work would be grounds for dismissal.

In spite of firm evidence supporting the article, Evans emailed The Cheese Grater on 8 December: “As Student Activities Officer, I am responsible for ensuring that clubs and societies operate within UCLU guidelines, policies, constitutions, and regulations. As you know, all clubs and societies must abide by the UCL policy on harassment and bullying, which is made explicit in the contract which you sign. Unfortunately, this article has caused great personal intimidation, humiliation and degradation for James Skuse. If published, a UCLU society and UCLU would be responsible for this. Therefore, I cannot allow UCLU Cheese grater Society to publish the article titled ‘J’askuse’.”

In fact, Evans has ignored a large body of “UCLU guidelines, policies, constitutions and regulations” by seeking to censor in this way. The Union Media Complaints Procedure lists the sole reasons for interference with publications as inaccuracy; failure to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact; invasion of privacy; and breaches of Union Equal Opportunities Policy.

In addition, UCLU Student Media Officer (and CG Investigations editor) Hannah Sketchley said “a new media policy is being drafted which says the only grounds for refusing to print something should be that it would cause unreasonable financial or legal risk to the Union or that its main purpose is to harass or bully. This article displayed none of these, and I was not consulted by Evans at all before she attempted to censor.”

The Cheese Grater’s society constitution is also agreed with UCLU, and states: “The Magazine shall contain in every or most issues, factual articles covering stories not otherwise looked into by Union media, or covered in an original way. The general purpose of the articles shall be to inform the students of College to such issues as the Editor and Committee deem of sufficient importance.”

Furthermore, the Union’s Articles of Association explicitly note “The Union will seek at all times to foster and encourage the freedom of speech, expression, assembly and association.”

Rather than follow Union policy, Evans has attempted to suppress the reporting of comments made by a co-worker during an interview intended for online release, and tweets published through a profile listing his Union position. If James Skuse finds the accurate reporting of words intended for release so distressing then it’s time he gets out of student politics.

Indeed, Evans’ actions may well have helped him on his way. According to Union Byelaws, Skuse must “oversee the publications and broadcasts of the Union”. As well as overseeing the censorship of ‘J’ASKUSE’, Evans was also The Cheese Grater’s sole contact regarding a separate concern about the article ‘No room at the Holiday Inn?’, holding two meetings and exchanging several emails over the course of a week.

When asked why she was overseeing the publication of The Cheese Grater, Evans responded, “as I started talking about this edition with you (due to the article on Skuse), I thought it would be easier to continue as we started.” While such an arrangement might have been easier, The Cheese Grater expects that Skuse at least try to fulfil the obligations of his £25,000 position.

The Sabbatical contract states: “The Officer will be required, to the best of their ability, to carry out the duties of the office to which elected”. Breaking this contract is listed as grounds for a no confidence motion.

Referring to the recent Pi Diary scandal (CG 32), Stef Newton, UCLU LGBT Officer, remarked: “Apparently the definition of harassment got lost in translation on the 4th floor of the Union, because I can’t imagine why someone would think questioning one’s gender and suggesting that it should be ‘checked’ is okay, but questioning an elected officer’s actions isn’t.”

Pi Newspaper Editor Kit Weaver commented: “UCL students deserve to know what the sabbs are really up to. Skuse cannot hide his misdemeanors behind UCLU regulation; either he must behave in the manner expected of a sabbatical officer, or accept the results of not doing so.”

That Skuse, who intended to “push for greater accountability of officers” and “prevent censorship of the media” in office has reacted in this way to reporting of his own tweets and interview footage is frankly absurd. That Evans was then willing to cover up her colleague’s misconduct is beyond unacceptable. Holding the Union and its officers to account in this way is exactly what The Cheese Grater was founded to do. Because someone has to.

John Bell