If you read campus publications, you are probably well aware of the tensions between campus newspapers and students’ unions. Reading the articles myself, I often question, what is the backstory here? What really happened and could this all have been resolved if we just sat down and hashed out our problems?
Last week, I read a piece in The Medium about their relationship with the UTMSU and some issues that have risen in the past few months. Knowing the other side of the story, I figured I’d share it with all of you because though there were many inaccuracies in the opinion piece (yes, an opinion can be misinformed too); we also saw some very bold statements that I agree with.
At first, I took great offence to what was written in last week’s edition. As a UTMSU executive, it’s hard not to feel defensive and frustrated when baseless accusations are hurled at you. Being here for the past eight months, I have grown very attached to the union’s work so even the smallest student issues get me going. So, as I mulled over the op-ed, I eventually came to terms with The Medium’s perspective.
In the era of fake news and governments avoiding media, I understand the very real fear and opposition to blocking journalists and campus media. After reading that the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Board discussed a policy to block the Varsity from live-tweeting and photographing representatives, I knew that something was wrong. As an elected representative, I personally disagree with their move because I believe that elected representatives have a duty to remain open to criticism and to be in the public eye. It’s a hard job and it can be invasive, but it’s the nature of the beast. As elected representatives reflect on their responsibilities, I believe campus papers should do the same.
Campus papers play a vital role and have a duty to keep students updated on campus wide issues and events. With that said, The Medium has a huge responsibility to objective reporting that is free of personal biases. It is crucial to journalism. In the ethics policy submission by the Canadian Association of Journalists, one of the points that stuck to me was under ‘Conflict of Interest’ which states that, “if a journalist does choose to engage in outside political activity or espouse a particular political viewpoint, this activity could create a public perception of bias, or favouritism that would reflect on the journalist’s work. Any journalist who engages in such activities—including running for office— should publicly declare any real or potential conflicts.”
Despite this responsibility, I ask, has The Medium stayed true to this principle? This academic year, I believe that there has been an ongoing issue with subjective journalism and a more pertinent matter of poor journalistic integrity. From multiple inaccuracies in publications, ‘random’ students being interviewed who always end up being those with personal issues with the Union. Not to mention Executives being recorded without the contributor identifying themselves as Medium staff, there has been a lot. The tipping point for me was after our Annual General Meeting in November, when an editor for The Medium began to corner and harass a part-time staff member who declined to comment about the meeting.
Our part-time student staff, did not sign up to be bullied by editorial staff. We immediately brought the issue to the Medium’s attention. In our correspondence with the Medium, we never communicated, wanted or intended to muzzle them, nor do we want to block them from entering our meetings. However, we stressed the need for a concrete method of communication between the union and the campus paper to ensure that no one is ever harassed again in the name of journalism. We invited the Medium to a meeting to discuss this further but, the Managing Editor jumped the gun and conflated the issue with that of blocking campus media.
I will only say it once: Speaking against aggressive behaviour is not suppressing the media. Though The Medium is capable of making mistakes, they are not absolved of accountability. The Medium should be held to the same standards of accountability as the UTMSU. Though our relationship is complex and at times vitriol, it is important to respect boundaries and community agreements. These critics and discussions are the only way we can ensure that our respective organizations improve and serve their mandates. I want to take the time to recognize the important work of the Medium, but also imagine the type of work we can do together when we address the issues like the quality of education or actual instances of censorship.
As a piece of advice to any and all readers of campus papers and drama with their local students’ union, find out both sides of the story, but never settle for subjective news or those who try to escape accountability. On a final note, we invite you and The Medium to attend public UTMSU meetings and engage with any of the executives about their work. Come by to our next board meeting, we’ve never stopped you before!
VICE PRESIDENT EXTERNAL – UTMSU