Journalism students at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have been urged not to cover the English Defence League protests being held in Preston on Saturday because of safety concerns.
In an email to students at the journalism school, journalism division leader Julie Freer explained that authorities in the city are advising all members of the public to stay away from Preston city centre "because of the potential trouble and the risk of personal injury". A march organised by campaign group Unite Against Fascists is also taking place and a football match between Preston North End and Millwall is scheduled.
"We recognise that this will be a major news story across the region, if not nationally. However, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot allow students to cover these events for any assignment or reporting exercise and we will not allow our equipment to be hired out. This isn't a decision we have taken lightly. We have taken advice from the university and from industry professionals who will be covering the event," says Freer in the email.
"I know that many of you will be disappointed to read this and may have planned to go along to cover such a big story in Preston. However ... experienced journalists have serious concerns about covering the march and professional news organisations are taking special measures to ensure the safety of their staff. We are not in the position to be able to do this and we don't feel this is a suitable event where trainee journalists can practice their skills."
Staff at UCLan have been instructed not sign equipment hire forms allowing journalism students to lease equipment for the weekend unless staff are satisifed that it will not be used in the surrounding area of the march.
But speaking to Journalism.co.uk, third year journalism student and co-editor of Blog Preston Andy Halls said the decision has frustrated some students.
"I'm still most definitely covering it [the march] for Blog Preston, and there's a number of students helping us out. Apparently my decision to cover it has not gone down well with the journalism department, for safety reasons of course. But we are a journalism department, and this is journalism. If they want us to be reporting hard news, they'll have to let us make our own decisions," he said.
"We understand our students' frustrations and, of course, we would normally encourage them to cover an important news story in Preston. However, after taking advice from our industry contacts, it became clear that news organisations were putting special security arrangements in place to ensure the safety of their staff covering this event. We are not in a position to do this," a UCLan spokesperson told Journalism.co.uk.
"Our journalism students are on a learning curve at university and, given their safety is paramount, sometimes we have to distinguish between what is an appropriate event for a student journalist to attend as opposed to an experienced professional journalist. It is for these reasons we have said they should not attempt to report on this march."