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April 18, 2020

Saturday, April 18, 2020 - ,,,,, 1 comment

Censorship by the Oxford University or by Dirk Obbink's law team?

On 16 April Lois Helsop at The Oxford Blue broke the news of that Thames Valley police had arrested American papyrologist Dr. Dirk Obbink, an associate professor in papyrology and Greek literature at Oxford University, on 2 March 2020.  ARCA, as well as prominent news outlets, picked up on this news notice, and in our case, linked back to Helsop's original article and directed our readers also to earlier ARCA postings (see this running thread) of this professor and the buying and selling of ancient texts.   

Professor Obbink has been the focus of much journalistic attention regarding the unauthorised sale of papyrus from the Oxyrhynchus collection, which is owned by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) and housed at Oxford's Sackler Library, pieces of which were discovered to have been purchased by the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. 

Today that Oxford Blue article has been removed.  Replaced by a brief statement which reads:
"This article is currently not available while The Oxford Blue takes counsel on legal threats it has received. The factual accuracy of this article is not contested by any party."
One has to ask, whose lawyer's rattled the young newspaper's cage?  Was it Oxford University's or Dr. Obbink's? While official guidance over whether arrested suspects’ names should be published ahead of charge is mixed, it is poor form to intimidate journalists for reporting facts on a high profile case, knowing a student newspaper doesn't have the funds to fight a litigious battle.  Luckily, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, a service that preserves web pages, has a copy of the original story archived, at least for now, or until they too receive a lawyerly take down request. 

Archived news articles are indispensable research resources as they can help reconstruct events, even the distasteful ones, which are necessary for historical and comparative research.  Often they are the last trace we have before knowledge is locked away in private nondisclosure settlements, or worse, when reporting is removed to avoid threats, legal and otherwise.

Here's to a universal access to all knowledge and if you have not already PDFed this webpage to memorialise the material for your own research, then now might be a good time, especially if you are following the interrelated cases of ethical behaviour in the museum and academic worlds as closely as we are.


And now that it's back in a modified form, we can see what changes were made:
1) The word "EXCLUSIVE" has been removed from the headline.
2) The tags Christ Church, Classics, and Oxford have been removed, which may make it harder to find in certain searches.
3) The note "[This is an amended version of a story which was originally published at 11:09am on 16/04/20]" has been added.
4) The entire second paragraph about reports in three national newspapers of Obbink's arrest on 2 March 2020 is new.
5) What is now the third paragraph now begins "The police investigation concerns for [sic] the alleged theft" rather than "Christ Church professor Dirk Obbink was arrested on 2nd March 2020 for alleged theft".
6) The next sentence has the clause "who has denied any wrongdoing" added – seeing as the article already went on to quote Obbink's own statement in which he denied any wrongdoing, this doesn't actually add anything new.
7) In the final paragraph, the clause "who did not respond to a request by the Telegraph for comment" and a stray space are new.

So it bascially changes the article from saying that Obbink was arrested on 2 March 2020 for theft to saying that the Telegraph, the Mail, and the Guardian say that Obbink was arrested on 2 March 2020 for theft and fraud. Not the sort of nuance that one would think it worth instructing lawyers for – after all, "The factual accuracy of this article is not contested by any party". But the Telegraph, the Mail, and the Guardian can all afford to deal with this sort of thing.