To our readers:
On Friday, March 15th, The University Times published an article detailing an initiation evening held by the Knights of the Campanile.
Since then, there has been considerable scrutiny of our reporting methods, and in particular the use of a recording device during the course of our reporting.
As such, this newspaper has formally requested that the Board of Trustees of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union convenes the Oversight Board of The University Times.
The Oversight Board is a three-person panel chaired by a member of the Law School, and is designed to resolve disputes and ensure that there is a check on the editorial independence of The University Times.
We would welcome a full and fair investigation of our reporting methods by the Oversight Board.
We understand that the use of a recording device may be concerning to our readers, but it is important to clarify how and why these methods were employed.
The day before the initiation, reporters from The University Times received information that the Knights of the Campanile would be holding its initiation event the following night.
Following our reporting on hazing within Dublin University Boat Club, we considered it in the public interest to investigate such practices in other clubs and societies.
At around 6pm, it became clear to our reporters that members of the Knights had convened under the Campanile.
As stated in the article, sometime after 7pm they proceeded through campus before arriving at the apartment of the society’s president.
Shouting from within the apartment, audible from outside the building, made it clear that hazing was occurring inside.
As such, reporters from The University Times decided to enter the building in order to fully investigate matters that this newspaper felt – and continues to feel – are in the public interest.
Though others have argued that the hazing practices described in our article about the Knights are less severe than what was revealed in our reporting about the Boat Club, the reporters deemed that the events occurring within – including humiliation and a power differential – met the definition of hazing outlined by the American HazingPrevention.Org.
As part of the reporting, the reporters placed a recording device outside the open door and remained in the immediate vicinity of the device while it recorded sounds that were also clearly audible to them.
This decision was taken because of the extraordinary and very specific circumstances of the situation, and in the context of audible hazing and the powerful, secretive nature of the society in question.
The device was set to record the events taking place – not the students generally. It was done while reporters were present, and was employed only to provide iron-clad corroboration of the remarks and events that the reporters could already hear.
Our readers should be aware that we take the balance between privacy and the public interest very seriously, and that the use of recording devices in this way was only employed given a set of circumstances that made it apparent that extraordinary events were taking place.
While practices vary within specific news organisations, this reasoning is directly in line with the editorial and ethics policies of a number of major news organisations, such as the BBC.
Trinity News on Monday pointed to the policies of the New York Times, which in general prohibit secret recordings, to suggest that our reporting was unethical. However, the organisation’s policy notes explicitly that senior editors “may make rare exceptions to this prohibition in places where recordings made secretly are legal”.
To be clear, however: The University Times absolutely believes that students are entitled to privacy in their day-to-day lives.
We wish to make clear that we have no intention of indiscriminately bugging students’ apartments.
This is, first and foremost, for ethical reasons. To reiterate, we absolutely do not believe it would be morally acceptable to do so.
But it is also for legal reasons: standing precedent in Irish courts – such as the Cogley vs RTÉ case – only protects the rights of journalists to conduct such recording when the matter is in the public interest.