Oxford’s oldest student newspaper could be vetted by "sensitivity readers" to stop it publishing "problematic" articles under new plans.
Officials at the Oxford Student Union (Oxford SU) are planning to set up a ‘Student Consultancy of Sensitivity Readers’ who would be elected and paid to check articles across various student newspapers for signs of insensitivity.
There is a "need for better editing" to review journalism from Oxford’s esteemed campus newspaper Cherwell because of "high incidences of insensitive material being published", students say.
"Problematic articles" are currently being published that are "implicitly racist or sexist" or "just generally inaccurate and insensitive", Oxford SU’s student council claims.
But the crackdown has triggered a backlash from Cherwell alumni, who have branded it a "bonkers, horrific" attempt to trample over press freedom and silence non-woke viewpoints.
Materials published by other student newspapers including The Oxford Student, Junior Common Rooms and student societies could also fall under the scrutiny of the sensitivity readers.
Passing a motion to set up the project last month – 26 votes to five, with an attached trigger warning for bigotry – the student council agreed: "Using elected reviewers who can take pieces to people more qualified than them can help ameliorate the potential damage from content."
‘Nobody is going to read a vetted newspaper’
The former BBC and Channel 4 broadcaster Michael Crick, who edited the Cherwell while at Oxford University’s New College, called the move "horrific", likening it to a government demanding to inspect newspapers before they are published.
"The key thing about journalism is it should remain independent for people in authority, and if the students’ union don’t like it they can set up their own," he told The Telegraph.
"The answer to all of these things is pluralism. If you’re going to have a boring, dull, vetted newspaper then nobody’s going to read it."
Broadcaster Rachel Johnson, who edited the student magazine Isis while at Oxford University, added: "It seems that life is a very scary thing and students must be protected from it at all costs, which to me is the opposite of what both university and journalism is about.
"I picked up a copy of Cherwell on the train [on a recent visit] and it was mainly students talking about themselves and identity issues.
"Each article had a ‘trigger warning’ rating at the top for if it contains triggering words or contains triggering content. The whole thing already – before even the student sensitivity scan of each piece – felt really sad."
Cherwell was founded in 1920 and is one of Britain’s oldest student publications
Cherwell is one of Britain’s oldest student publications, independent of the student union and founded in 1920. It counts Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene as former editors.
It was forced to apologise and remove an article "reappraising" the composer Richard Wagner in January over complaints it was anti-Semitic. Officials are now in talks over how the sensitivity readers will work in practice.
Keble College student Ellen Hendry, who proposed the idea, told the council meeting it was designed to be a crowd-sourced website that would receive submissions and check them, especially writing about identity groups.
Both Cherwell and the Oxford Blue, a new campus newspaper, told The Telegraph they are yet to be notified by Oxford SU.
It is the latest free speech row at Oxford University, after 150 dons threatened to boycott teaching and outreach work because Oriel College refused to take down a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the Victorian imperialist.
New free speech laws will soon apply to student unions for the first time to tackle cancel culture on campuses, while a free speech champion will be appointed to the Office for Students watchdog.
Toby Young, of the Free Speech Union, said: "Student leaders should be standing up for the speech rights of student journalists, not trying to muzzle them."
Oxford SU did not respond to requests for comment.