View Full Version : Student newspaper closed after 'making racist attack on the Welsh"

Sunday, December 19th, 2004, 07:05 PM

Student newspaper at St Andrews University closed after 'making racist attack on the Welsh'
By Andrew Murray-Watson
(Filed: 19/12/2004)

The student newspaper at St Andrews University, where Prince William is in his final year, has been shut down after making a light-hearted joke at the expense of the Welsh.

In a recent column, Jo Kerr, the 19-year-old editor of the Scottish university newspaper, The Saint, jokingly accused the Welsh of "evil doings" after a Christian group from Wales protested about a production of the play Corpus Christ.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/graphics/2004/12/19/nwales19.jpgThe offending story
In the play, which was written by Terence McNally, an American playwright, Jesus is portrayed as the homosexual son of an alcoholic.

"At first it all sounded like something from a Monty Python sketch, participants in a comedy portraying Jesus as a gay son of an alcoholic are attacked by a not so merry band of fundamentalist Christians from Wales," wrote Ms Kerr.

"It's almost beyond belief (apart from the fact that I have secretly suspected the Welsh of evil doings ever since they spawned the caterwauling Charlotte Church)."

In retaliation for its supposedly racist comments, The Saint was locked out of its offices by its landlord, the Students' Association, for breaching its equal opportunities rules. In a memo to the newspaper last week, the association said that it had been found guilty of being "discriminatory against minority groups" following an anonymous complaint.

The newspaper's staff, including Ms Kerr, who is a Scot studying for a degree in English, will now have to pay to undergo "diversity awareness training", provided by the university's human resources department, before the association will consider letting them back into their offices.

The punishment has astonished the newspaper's staff and other students at St Andrews, who believe that it is contrary to the enlightened thinking for which the university has previously been renowned.

The controversy echoes one in 2001 when Anne Robinson, the television presenter, author and journalist, faced calls for her to be prosecuted after an allegedly racist attack on the Welsh.

She described the Welsh as "irritating and annoying" on the BBC comedy show Room 101 adding: "What are they for?"

In January last year, David Blunkett, the recent Home Secretary, was at the centre of a race row after a joke about Colin Jackson, the Welsh champion hurdler. Mr Blunkett, describing how ethnic minorities should be encouraged to do well at work, said: "Colin Jackson succeeded, despite being Welsh."

The Saint was launched as an independent student newspaper in 1997. Earlier this year it won the award for best student newspaper in the Herald Scottish Student Press Awards for 2004. Ms Kerr, who was appointed editor earlier this year, said: "The problem was a couple of people who have nothing better to do than make complaints in a self-righteous bureaucratic manner."

Simon Atkins, the president of the Students' Association, defended the decision to bar The Saint from its offices, but declined to say how many complaints he had received. "It is not our intention to stop The Saint printing things that annoy people, " he said, adding that the association had a duty to protect the rights of all student groups.

Some students suspect that the action against The Saint is also related to an incident almost a year ago when a photograph on its gossip page of two male students kissing was captioned with the word "faggots".

The paper, which immediately fired the member of staff responsible, published a long apology in its next issue, but now believes that it has been the victim of a long-running campaign to close it down.

Ms Kerr, who was not in charge at the time of the caption incident, said: "We apologised profusely. We have made our mistakes but this has been going on for nine months now. It's getting ridiculous.

"We don't want to offend people and we are not out to get cheap laughs. The Saint is a tabloid and it is light-hearted in places, but we still strive to maintain a broadsheet quality. We have issues to raise and we argue them in a sophisticated manner."

Originally, staff were told that they would be locked out indefinitely. At an appeal hearing on Friday, The Saint was given permission to use its office once it has signed up to the association's equal opportunities regulations and its staff have undergone diversity awareness training.

The association also insists that the editor should in future send each issue to the university's press office to check that it is not in breach of discrimination policy before the paper goes to the printers.

St Andrews University was founded in 1413 and has more than 5,000 students.

Sir Clement Freud, the writer and journalist and who is rector of the university, was unavailable for comment yesterday. Alastair Work, the secretary to the University Court, the university's ruling body, said that it would work with the newspaper to ensure its future and defended its right to be controversial.