Last week, we commemorated Remembrance Day and reflected on the role of freedom and democracy in our society.
These are big concepts, but certainly important ones, especially when taken into consideration with the role that independent media play in a democracy. We need people to ask our elected representatives about their policies and hold them accountable for their actions. Of course, people won’t always like the questions they are asked. It doesn’t matter, so long as we have the right to ask them, because as Justin Trudeau said days before his election, journalists “ask tough questions and they’re supposed to”.
As noted in our cover story of UTMSU’s annual general meeting last Thursday, some UTMSU representatives tried to restrict The Medium from recording the event and taking photos. It’s not the first time it’s happened, and I don’t anticipate it being the last time, so that’s why I felt it was worth bringing up.
For starters, let’s discuss audio recordings. UTMSU is legally required to hold an annual general meeting open to all its members. UTMSU takes official minutes of the meeting and posts them online after the minutes are approved at the following year’s AGM. The campus media (us), and The Varsity in recent years, attend and cover the meeting. We provide independent coverage of the event immediately after it takes place, so students have a record of what happened without having to wait another year for it.
Much like how it’s important for independent media to follow what’s taking place within the government, the campus media such as The Medium and The Varsity are important resources for providing independent coverage of the student government.
As to the question of “sensitive” issues and confidentiality, it’s hard to imagine anything being said in a mic in front of 100 students to be left secret for long. In fact, I’d imagine that the whole point of speaking up in such a setting would be to raise awareness about certain issues, not hide them.
But if we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of it all, let me just say this about journalism: during an interview, it is understood that whatever an interviewee says is publishable. The exception is when both the reporter and the interviewee agree to go “off-record”.
That this is a mutual agreement is key; if “off-record” was a written contract, the interviewee offers information to the reporter on the condition that the reporter agrees to not publish it. The reporter must agree to not report on the information, otherwise the interviewee doesn’t say anything.
So, as far as I’m concerned, a meeting that is open to all UTM students, various campus media, and even guests from UTM and beyond, is both public and on-record. (So yes, we recorded the meeting.)
We also took photos, although initially, the message we received was that UTMSU was restricting photography to its own staff. After listening to UTMSU’s concerns about students not wishing to be photographed, we insisted on taking photos under the same terms that UTMSU staff could take photos.
In other words, we didn’t take photos of anyone who raised their hand at the beginning of the meeting to indicate that they did not wish to have their photo taken.
Although it worked out for us in the end, the debate with UTMSU prior to the meeting about our rights as campus media was quite unnecessary. And it was unnecessary last year and even before then.
Like I said before, campus media are essential to a functioning democracy. We appreciate being left alone to do our jobs because frankly, our mandate is too important to waste time on petty disputes.
I hope in the future UTMSU and all leaders respect this.