Louis Ashworth

This week, the national and tabloid media distorted the events at a CUSU Council debate over whether to broaden the commemoration of British war veterans to include all those affected by war. They placed narrative above fact, prioritised sensationalism over student safety, and violated students’ personal privacy. This targeted and false coverage facilitated attacks and abuse toward left-wing Cambridge students.

We fully accept that as the first publication to report on the CUSU Council debate, Varsity had a role to play in providing information which the national media subsequently twisted. We deeply regret that information we reported on was used in a wider ongoing media campaign to vilify students, in the active search for stories which play into a narrative that suits the beliefs that many members of the British public already hold about Cambridge students.

We have been having – and will continue to have – conversations about how we can best protect the students we share our University with. While it is very difficult to predict which stories the national press will leap on, we are thinking more critically about how we cover students expressing their political views – including in public forums and in on-the-record conversations with Varsity reporters.

As students ourselves, the safety of our peers factors into all of our editorial decisions, and for us, members of the current Varsity senior editorial team, the welfare of individual students will come before any story. We are also working to weave this into Varsity’s institutional memory.

Cambridge University Conservative Association’s (CUCA) Facebook post after Council accused CUSU of wanting “to erase our memory” of “war heroes who sacrificed so much for so many”: this was blatantly misleading. CUCA and the national media distorted what was simply an amendment seeking to broaden how we commemorate the lives of those affected by war. This was not a proposal to ignore or erase the sacrifices of British war veterans. This was not a call to reject Remembrance Day.

Yesterday, Varsity reported that far-right group, the Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance claimed they would march in Cambridge next month over what they perceived as students attempting to erase the sacrifice of British war veterans: this is a direct consequence of irresponsible journalism.

CUSU sabbatical officers have received death threats, despite it not having been a decision on their part to reject either the motion or the amendment – they have been dragged into this as a result of a dangerous disregard for the facts which CUCA and the national media still haven’t recognised.

CUCA then saw fit to criticise CUSU for not sending a representative to a Good Morning Britain debate to face Piers Morgan, who labelled students who voted against CUCA’s motion as “disgusting”, “offensive garbage”. His time as presenter on the programme has been characterised by shouting down those whose views differ from his, while he has repeatedly pandered to far-right figures such as Steve Bannon. Their cavalier attitude has demonstrated a grave disregard for the safety of their fellow students. We categorically condemn this.

CUCA have placed their agenda above a basic concern for student welfare: they continue to unapologetically broadcast their views in spite of the harm caused to their peers. They have suggested furthermore, that CUSU is refusing to participate in fair debate when this situation has been anything but fair.

Our fellow students have been willfully misrepresented in the public eye, subject to a tirade of abuse and invasion of their personal privacy. We stand with them – the activists and CUSU sabbatical officers who have been targeted.

Throughout this week, we have been having conversations about the dangerous media climate today, and what this means for our coverage. We are first and foremost a student paper, and therefore are committed to the duty of care we have towards our fellow students.

Written by:

Noella Chye, Editor
Catherine Lally, Deputy Editor
Merlyn Thomas, Deputy Editor
Stephanie Stacey, Senior News Editor
Rosie Bradbury, Senior News Editor

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