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March 15, 2016

NUJ accuses UCL of “disgraceful” behaviour after student journalist threatened with expulsion

By John Reynolds

University College London (UCL) has been accused of behaving in a “disgraceful fashion” by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) over its threat to dismiss a student journalist who published details about its finances.

The NUJ has called on the university to withdraw its threat to dismiss 21-year-old Rebecca Pinnington, who was threatened with disciplinary action by the university after she published an article revealing the existence of classified forecasts.

The forecasts showed increased income the university expected to generate from student accommodation.

The article, which only revealed the existence of the document but did not reveal any figures, was published on UCL’s news website Pi Media last week.

The university sent a warning letter to Pinnington telling her she could face sanctions including “dismissal without notice and potential exposure to court proceedings” if she published more information from the documents.

The university asked the fourth-year student to destroy or hand over the information, which had been inadvertently been shared via Microsoft Outlook.

Pinnington, 21, who is president of the student-run website, told The Independent that she felt "scared" and "intimidated" by the university's behavour towards her.

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She said: “I felt intimated, anxious and scared. As a student journalist I felt sad because this was information that was interesting and integral to student life, but it was made very clear that if I were to publish anything more I could lose my degree.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “The NUJ supports journalists and student journalism. It appears that the university has behaved in a disgraceful fashion by intimidating her in this way.

“The information is clearly in the public interest and she appears to have acted in a proportionate and responsible way. We expect the university to retract its threats.”

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