Why UCLan is right to urge students not to report on Preston EDL march

26 11 2010

It’s caused a minor furore on Twitter and on blogs: “Concerned over safety, UCLan urges journalism students not to cover EDL march”. But why are people getting so wound up about it?

To be clear, I’m not writing this on behalf of UCLan’s journalism school (the school’s position was made clear in Laura Oliver’s article, linked to above), or even trying to represent a different view.

The reason I am writing this is because I think the criticism levelled at the decision is starting to become a bit unreasonable, I get the impression that some people believe the story is somehow an indication that UCLan is denying its journalism students the opportunities to practise journalism. I think this is nonsense.

I understand (as does the UCLan journalism school) that the EDL march will receive regional, and possibly national, coverage. For those that attend, there’s the chance to get a brilliant story.

But is it really so irrational of the school to say: “we cannot allow students to cover these events for any assignment or reporting exercise and we will not allow our equipment to be hired out”? The reasoning is clear and explicit – the department spoke to  practising industry professionals who will be there on Saturday. The school has clearly been warned of the potential dangers that students could encounter.

Telling students not to report on the march for university work passes absolutely the onus of responsibility onto the student. Through refusing to accept work about the march, UCLan is removing the possibility of students taking unnecessary risks in order to look good and get good marks. There is no reason for a student to take risks in order to attain good marks for their portfolio.

As I said in a brief exchange on Twitter to one of my peers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), if a student goes to the protest and gets injured, it was their idea, not the university’s. It was their own decision to go, for their own personal reasons.

While the school has told students not to report on the protest for university work, and have advised students to stay away following warnings, the department has NOT completely banned students from going, as some people seem to be inferring.

Do I plan on going to the EDL march? Yes I do, and I intend to take some pictures.

Of course, it’s a frustrating situation, but the alternative (ie. NOT to tell students not to attend for university work) is open to a lot more scrutiny, and it would be unprofessional of the university to be seriously warned about the dangers, and not to make their position unequivocally clear.