Censorship has become a hotly contested issue in the UK and action taken by the state in a number of cases has left a sour taste in the mouths of the country’s student population, as Greg Bianchi observes.
Relationships between students and authorities have been thrust into the spotlight this week after a number of high-profile incidents on UK campuses.
It was reported last week that Michael Chessum, president of the University of London Union (ULU), was arrested by police following a demonstration in central London opposing the planned closure of ULU.
Reports suggested he was intercepted by police in Bloomsbury after a meeting with University staff the day after the protest. In an editorial the London Student heavily criticised the arrest, calling it “politically motivated”. The editorial also claims that the ULU premier is subject to strict bail conditions and that he is unable to join a student protest within half a mile of any UK university campus.
Many student organisations have jumped to the defence of Chessum. As reported in York Vision, York-based students and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have publicly criticised the arrest. However, the President of the York University Students Union didn’t publicly condemn the arrest for lack of information. The NCAFC organise a number of protests opposing austerity and cuts to higher education across the UK which has seen £9,000 tuition fees introduced for undergraduate study.
The Metropolitan police responded by confirming that a 24-year old male was in custody and was arrested after a breach of the Public Order Act. This referred to the alleged issue that Chessum didn’t inform the police of the planned protest.
Following this a protest formed outside the Holborn police station where Mr Chessum was being held. As reported in The Leopard a protest was planned and was supported by Goldsmiths University Students Union. In the report the NUS also criticised the heavy-handedness of the police.
In a separate development it was revealed that Cambridgeshire Police had tried to recruit an undercover agent among the student population in order to receive information on student politicians and planned actions. This has been heavily criticised in both the UK’s student and national media.
According to The Cambridge Student the police hoped to infiltrate a number of anti-cuts organisations and interviewed a potential candidate for the role of reporting about planned activities. The person interviewed secretly recorded the proceedings. The revelation emerged in The Guardian to whom the secret filming was leaked.
In response Cambridgeshire Police said: “Officers use covert tactics to gather intelligence, in accordance with the law, to assist in the prevention and detection of criminal activity.”
Another revelation from Cambridge University was revealed in Varsity this week when it claimed that the Cambridge Union Society has entered into a sponsorship deal with Deloitte. While the Union hopes this will aid any financial issues there have been criticisms from some who claim that this could lead to censorship within the union. Equally criticism emerged that a number of seats at a recent debate were reserved for Deloitte employees.