Alumni Corner - Nathan Young

A Harpy article once resulted in a lawsuit. Volume XXVIII Editor, Nathan Young, recounts the experience

While I have many great memories from my time in the University Observer, and wrote several stories I feel had real merit and interest for the students and staff of UCD, my fondest memories will forever remain writing absolute bollocks for The Harpy.

One particular story from back when I was a contributor was aimed at a senior figure in the campaign to extend the student centre levy, something I thought particularly unfair given that at the time, the promises of the original Student Centre Levy had yet to fully materialise. Unfair, too, that we students were paying a levy to build state of the art facilities that UCD management themselves were going to put front and centre on all prospectuses internationally to recruit those international students and their deep pockets.

The gist of the piece was that said campaigner was an avid bootlicker to UCD management and to authority figures in general because he liked the taste of dog shit and boot polish, along with some other less than kind jokes at the expense of people looking to make university more expensive for everyone for years to come.

After the publication of the piece, both in print and online, we (or rather, my editor, as I was just a contributor at the time) received a cease and desist letter that demanded a retraction and apology from ourselves at the Observer, but also UCDSU and, for lord know what reason, the University itself.

Following this threatening legal letter, we had a complaint against us lodged with the Press Ombudsman, a far more appropriate avenue for such disputes. In the course of their investigation, they phoned my editor to ask, although confirming that he did not have to answer, who had actually written the article, given it was published under “Ernest Rimmington”. He did not divulge.

The complaint to the Ombudsman also highlighted that another invented quote, this time from a student involved in the campaign against extending the levy, threatened the complainant with a guillotine should a communist student revolution happen.

Thankfully, the Ombudsman found in our favour, as the Harpy was very clearly labelled satirical, and the events described were “manifestly fictitious”. As a little cherry on top, the Atticus column in The Times the week of the decision lamented students losing their sense of humour.