After a concerted backlash from student magazine editors past and present, Tharunka editor Brendan Byron yesterday stepped down from his post.

He’d been in hot water after it was discovered he had deleted four articles on student politics from the University of New South Wales student rag’s online archives. In a letter posted to Tharunka‘s website yesterday, he stood by his actions:

“My justification for taking down the articles was never to rewrite history. I took the articles down because they conflicted with Tharunka’s charter and the ethical principles it enforces on published content. They were prominent examples of a long-running trend of editors using Tharunka to score points in personal disputes and to sledge the character and reputation of political rivals — generally in advance of student elections where friends or allies would be running.”

Nonetheless, he continued:

“I accept that I did not have the authority as an editor to take down the articles. I’ve asked the current editors of Tharunka to restore the articles, and I hope they do. However, I have concluded that it is in the best interest of Tharunka as a paper to resign for the remainder of my term.”

UNSW students discovered one of the articles was deleted last month and had confronted Byron about it on Facebook. He readily admitted he’d deleted the piece, saying it had been a vindictive piece that didn’t meet ethical journalism standards. The admission caused outcry among former editors. When The Guardian‘s media reporter Amanda Meade spoke to Byron about the deletion a fortnight ago, he admitted he’d actually deleted four articles.

Three of those articles have been identified, and all three dealt with student elections. One named Byron personally and criticised him for claims he had made during an election campaign, while the others made references to the factional dealings of the campus Labor Right faction. Byron is a former Labor Right federal candidate (for the seat of Parks in north-western NSW where he got 20.8% of the vote — it’s a safe Nationals seat) and has been the convener of the Labor Right on campus at UNSW. Crikey has been told by multiple sources that Byron faced pressure to delete the articles by others in his faction, particularly as elections for the board of student organisation Arc take place next week. Byron and factional leaders did not respond to Crikey‘s questions this morning.

Tharunka insiders told Crikey they were highly sceptical of Byron’s claims that he’d deleted the articles because of their unfairness. All the articles found to be deleted have been election commentary and reporting, and the bar for publishing election commentary at UNSW is very, very high. Articles about student elections have to be vetted by the election’s returning officer, who is charged with weeding out bias and self-interested publication. “You can’t use Tharunka to run a vendetta these days,” one former editor remarked. While Byron and the Labor Right didn’t come out looking great in the pieces, they’re not exactly hatchet jobs.

Last week, Byron was suspended by student body Arc, as it conducted an investigation into his deletions. That came after a public petition was signed by over 40 former editors and contributors to Tharunka calling for the articles to be reinstated.

This morning, on Tharunka’s website, two of the four deleted articles had been put back up.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey