Sexually explicit cover stops the presses

A sexually explicit cover, shown here in part, has left Acadia University's student newspaper without a printer. (Courtesy of the Athenaeum staff)

Acadia University's student newspaper in Wolfville, N.S., is struggling to publish its most recent edition after its usual printing company refused to print the cover image — a painting depicting a woman, breasts exposed, with her hands in her underpants.

The latest issue of The Athenaeum was originally going to focus on sex, but after receiving a number of submissions about female bodies and experiences the editorial team decided to centre the edition on the theme of female sexuality.

"These were all written from very personal, very brave first-person perspectives," editor-in-chief Iain Bauer told CBC's Mainstreet.

For the cover the predominately female editorial team asked an artist to contribute some images to the issue. Inspired by the articles in the paper, the artist made a painting of a woman baring her breasts with her hand in her blue underpants.

Soon after that, TC Transcontinental Printing informed the paper that it would not be printing the issue for fear of litigation. 

"We were surprised," Bauer said. "We've been expecting other challenges with getting this issue distributed, but never really considered the printers."

Printer fears legal action

The Athenaeum has never had a contract with the printer.

"The decision not to print Issue 76.9 of The Athenaeum is based on a potential risk of litigation from whoever might make a complaint about the image," said Jennifer McCaughey, senior communications director with TC Transcontinental.

"There is nothing else to add."

Bauer sought legal opinion about the risk of litigation.

"We got in touch with our legal team, and also with an independent media lawyer, and they couldn't see any real risk of litigation with this issue. Certainly it could surprise or offend people," he said.

'This really is the bravest issue, I think, my staff has ever put together.'- Iain Bauer

"I still have yet to hear the explicit legal concerns. We do know we're testing the waters. They are fairly explicit images, although they are paintings."

Bauer said The Athenaeum is still working hard to get the issue published, but won't change the cover.

"This really is the bravest issue, I think, my staff has ever put together," he said. "For us, this painting was not just an addition to the issue, but it was very much a part of it, it expressed just as much of a message as any of the articles did for us. So as much as I wouldn't really consider taking out any of the articles of this issue, we don't really want to consider taking out the paintings."