The Medium was barred from filming the UTM Students’ Union’s annual general meeting last Thursday.
On Wednesday afternoon, Raymond Noronha, the president of UTMSU, emailed me to say that we wouldn’t be permitted to take footage or make a recording at the meeting. (Incidentally, we generally need more than one day to plan our weekly video.) I was surprised, and since I was on campus, I decided to ask Mr. Noronha about it in person.
There are a few reasons why I found the move bizarre. The purpose of the AGM is to broadcast the union’s projects and audited financials to its members; it’s designed to increase visibility and accessibility. Professional photographers are invited. Minutes are taken. Members are even allowed to vote by proxy if they can’t attend in person, a policy the union cites as democratic. As Mr. Noronha said at the AGM, “UTMSU is a very transparent organization.”
But video coverage is, apparently, beyond the pale. That was the message I got as I talked to Mr. Noronha about it on Wednesday. His argument was that members had approached him with concerns about being filmed. Such concerns would strike me as more valid if stepping up to a microphone to speak about an organization in a recorded meeting open to all its members were a privacy liability and if we were interested in voyeurism. But of course neither condition has a basis in fact.
Nor was I convinced by Mr. Noronha’s point that non-members might watch the video; a quick visit to UTMSU’s website yields unrestricted access to board minutes, AGM minutes, audited financials, and more. Not that I think they should be taken down—quite the contrary. I just don’t think there’s a risk of non-members looking for and abusing that information.
The Medium was actually allowed to take footage last year (which was eventually used without sound as a backdrop for interview audio not taken during that AGM), and Mr. Noronha confirmed that no policy had changed since then. He reiterated that he was in a tight spot in having skittish members to accommodate on the one hand and us to accommodate on the other. I want to point out that our editing staff and intended audience are also his constituents. He had no compromises to propose, which is not surprising, since between taking footage and not taking footage there aren’t many. When an email on Thursday repeated the stance that no footage could be taken, I understood it as a choice of whom to accommodate.
More precisely, though, it’s not even an accommodation. It’s an obligation to allow independent media coverage of a company’s accountability meeting. This is why official publications are often referred to in constitutions and by-laws, including UTMSU’s, which mentions the “campus publication” (i.e. the Medium) in connection with certain requirements on the organization to give proper notices to the public. Such clauses are not generosities but essential checks on representative bodies, and they, along with long-standing precedents, have allowed the Medium to throw down attempts by the union in recent years to bar even photo coverage of some events. Unfortunately, video coverage is too recent to enjoy that legal protection.
I did insist on our right to record audio, without which a modern journalist can hardly do her job. Video coverage would admittedly be more cosmetic than functional in this case, but—especially considering the various other means by which AGMs are recorded anyway—it’s all the more harmless for that.
In the end, I didn’t think it was a battle worth fighting, and so we didn’t bring a videographer. However, my last email to UTMSU had said that I planned to. I didn’t get a reply, but we did find the sign-in room decorated with three or four printed “NO VIDEO SURVEILLANCE” signs and we were not allowed to enter until news editor Larissa Ho’s purse had been searched for hidden cameras.
This was the first AGM of UTMSU’s that I’ve attended, and it was an enlightening experience. Among the praise of past successes and future projects, there were several serious questions and new facts brought up by various attendees, which you can read about in detail in the cover article of our news section this week. In my opinion, it’s the most important event the union holds in a year, and the more eyes on it the better.
Hopefully you will find a video on it as well next year. As Mr. Noronha said to me, he’s been trying to facilitate communication between the Medium and UTMSU. It’s true that there have been few hiccups this year, and I sincerely appreciate his efforts to strengthen an important connection (if not a collaboration). Still, I can’t help but think that removing access that the campus publication had last year is a step in the opposite direction.