Demonizing the media is an easy out for student politicians

Dear editor,

This is in response to the op-ed written by the UTMSU’s VP External Atif Abdullah. The main issue with his opinion piece is that the truth is masked by inaccuracy. He didn’t do his due diligence while writing the piece, causing it to be more of an attack than a legitimate critique of the campus newspaper.

Before I continue, however, I would like to start by defending my reputation as a student journalist, since the main issues Abdullah raised in his piece have to do with my journalistic integrity as the news editor of The Medium.

I have never published an article that intentionally libels, slanders, or mischaracterizes the members of the union. My search for the truth, as a person and as a journalist, will always be the main value that guides me.

Yes, I made mistakes as I familiarized myself with the job, but the important thing is that I learned from those mistakes, bettered myself, and grew as a journalist.

Articles with factual inaccuracies have been printed, but my team has always been quick to issue corrections as soon as they are made aware of the mistakes.

I have based all my interactions with people on being as honest as possible, and have prided myself on supporting the search for the truth, whether it be in politics, philosophy, or life in general.

All that being said, accusing me of cornering and harassing a part-time staff member of the UTMSU is completely and flagrantly false.

Here is what really happened: After the AGM I was told by a member of the UTMSU that volunteers were allegedly being given volunteer hours for showing up to the meeting. I asked the member if I could get them on record saying that, to which they agreed. A few minutes later I was introduced to the union’s volunteer coordinator.

I asked her whether or not it was true that volunteers would be given volunteer hours for attending the meeting. She denied it, and I followed up by telling her that people had said otherwise. She stated that the UTMSU had told volunteers they should attend the meeting, but they had never promised them volunteer hours. I asked her if she could provide some sort of proof, like an e-mail or Whatsapp message sent out to volunteers, to which she responded that she would go and ask Felipe about it and then return.

She never did.

I am certain the other members of the UTMSU who were with us can vouch for my behaviour. I asked her questions politely, and she answered them. She never declined to answer, and I never forced her to answer. I am far too agreeable to be menacing. The clubs coordinator may have been distressed after I questioned her, but I don’t believe it was warranted. She is, after all, responsible for her reactions as much as I am responsible for my actions.

Now that I have relayed to you my side of the story, I would like to offer advice to student politicians who so easily slander student journalists.

To serve their own purposes, politicians paint news outlets as dishonest and unethical. When the student body begins to distrust the campus newspaper, the only check on the students’ union begins to erode. Who else ensures that the union stays open and transparent? I sure wouldn’t want to leave it up to the students’ union.

The Medium’s main priority is covering the news, and uncovering the truth. Asking questions is an integral part of our job. Demonizing the only institution that can hold you accountable is a very large misstep. There is no reason for the UTMSU to regard us with suspicion unless they have something to hide.

After I read Abdullah’s piece, I contacted him personally to see if we could sit down and resolve any issues that had arisen over the past few months. He was happy to, and we met and spoke about what happened during the AGM, as well as the current friction between The Medium and the UTMSU.

Our conversation was a productive one. I was able to tell him my side of the AGM story, and he acknowledged it. I could tell he was very passionate about the work he does, and that his main priority is to help students. On that point, I can certainly relate.

After evaluating our conversation, I believe that many of the problems between our two organizations stemmed from a lack of communication. Most disagreements happened over e-mail, which can easily cause things to get lost in translation.

So here are my suggestions to the UTMSU: Firstly, end the need to have The Medium correspond with you over email. We work in the same building for heaven’s sake! Let us come downstairs and ask you questions on the fly. Secondly, do not regard us with suspicion. We are guided by unwavering principles. I can assure you that everyone at The Medium takes objective journalism very seriously.

Finally, maybe all the UTMSU needs is some stark introspection. What are you doing poorly? What can you improve on? Where can you be more transparent and open? Some students say the union is too political. Some say the union is too focused on curating the perfect reputation. Others say the union is just a group of friends playing politics. Which, if any, of these is true? Remember to never shy away from criticism, for it always gives you the opportunity to grow.

I look forward to ending this debacle and moving on, with each organization being the better for it. Until then, us journalists at The Medium will continue to do our jobs as best we can.

Yours truly,

Ali Taha