Higgins takes ‘iron-fist’ approach to Palatinate to protect ‘Durham Brand’

Durham VC wanted Palatinate to act as an “advertisement” and THREATENED its team with “serious disciplinary action” if they were critical of the university, former editors have claimed.


Two former editors of the student newspaper have come forward in the wake of the VC’s retirement to say that they feared losing their place at university if they honestly reported the news.

Pressure was allegedly put on those at the newspaper, ironically promoted as ‘Durham’s Independent Student Newspaper’, not to publish stories which painted the university in a bad light.

Former editor, Daniel Johnson, told Times Higher Education that he was threatened with “serious disciplinary measures” for causing “reputational damage to the university” for news stories he had written.

He had used a document leaked to Palatinate to report that British American Tobacco had given Durham £125,000, a story which was allegedly agreed to be ‘kept quiet’.

Higgins has been keeping a watchful eye on Palatinate

Johnson had also reported on the appointment of David Held, master of University College, which proved divisive due to his links with Saif Gaddafi. The publishing of this story, and the subsequent negative press it brought to the university, resulted in the Vice Chancellor telling Johnson he should resign as editor in a list of demands that included a public apology.

As a result Higgins also demanded that the paper be vetted by the university before publication to ensure that it promoted the Durham ‘brand’.

Former editor Harriet Line claims she received a “dressing down” from senior figures at the university when they “disagreed with the editorial slant” of the paper.

The current student commented that to her “it seemed so paradoxical that in an academic environment championing free-speech, such an iron-fist approach was taken towards Palatinate, which is solely in place to impartially inform the student body.” This echoes the claim on Palatinate’s website which states “Although affiliated to Durham Students’ Union (DSU), Palatinate retains full editorial independence.”


Former editor, Harriet Line, feared for her place at university.

When asked for comment on this issue Durham said that they were “committed to freedom of expression within the law” and that they have “never disciplined a student for publishing controversial material in good faith, nor would we ever do so.”

A spokesman for the DSU said that “where differences of opinion with the university have occurred, the union’s management and officers have robustly defended student journalism and have mediated to find solutions.”

They did not comment on what form these “mediations” took.

Students told The Tab that they found the intervention of university officials concerning, especially since it appears that the VC had a controlling say in what Palatinate could and couldn’t report.

One first year sociology student said “I applied to go to Durham, not North Korea” while a fourth year said that the “Durham Dragon strikes again, I am just thankful he didn’t succeed in ruining student journalism at Durham [before leaving]”.

Hopefully next year Durham will see someone slightly more relaxed about reputation a la Northhampton