There’s more than one type of respect a person can show, a point that was made clear for me this past week.
While preparing to cover UTMSU’s annual general meeting, a required event for nonprofits where they present their finances and other things to the members, news editor Maria Iqbal and I got an email from executive director Walied Khogali saying that we’d have press passes and that “audio and video recording equipment is not allowed inside Council Chambers during the duration of the Annual General Meeting”.
The first thing that came into my head is that the downtown union also has press passes, and we were told by their VP internal Cameron Wathey last month to identify as media and that “No media individual can vote”. It would be against the act under which they’re incorporated, as well as their own bylaws, to stop members from voting, and the worry that this might happen here raised a red flag for me.
The other thing is that two years ago we did take footage, and only last year they decided we couldn’t. I eventually gave up the fight, but the news editor’s purse was still searched for a video camera at the door (this was apologized for after, since you can’t do that, but it made me wonder what means they intended to use to ensure we didn’t try to take any equipment in this year).
Audio and photos, though, have been taken with more precedent. With good reason, too, especially for the audio: photos make an article more readable, but you can’t even cover a two-hour event taking notes by hand. The digital recorder is a modern journalist’s friend. It also prevents misquotes, which is a good thing. And there’s no real point in banning it, since there’s a record of the meeting anyway in the form of legally required minutes. The Varsity also eventually live-tweeted it, with quotes and everything. Why tell us no? There’s also nothing in their policy that mentions no recording, so the decree came without a basis. This was the second red flag.
And so I replied, copying a number of people—mainly our and UTMSU’s staff and boards, but also some people in admin and UTSU—who should be aware whenever our ability to cover the meeting might be threatened. (And the same for voting, though we were allowed to in the end.) Khogali responded with frustration and later let me know that my having copied certain others wasn’t respectful.
Let’s talk about the discussions that followed. The justification he cited for limiting audio was that people might raise issues at the meeting that are too sensitive to write about. Some particular students with sensitive issues had been asked to bring them to the many other possible forums for them, including privately with the relevant ministers, he claimed, but they had insisted on bringing them to a packed room of all members.
Okay, but there’s a logical problem. Normally when people insist on bringing a concern before a crowd, it’s not in order to keep it quiet. Where’s the respect for students trying to be heard? And let’s say that someone does, unwittingly, say something very personal without the knowledge that they’re at a meeting whose content the government mandates must be distributed to almost all of UTM. If that happened, where’s the respect for our judgement not to sensationalize but to consider whether something needs to be broadcast? And as for banning recording to accommodate people who might bring up sensitive concerns, in all fairness, where’s the respect for everyone else that says no one person has the right to hijack the nature of a meeting and turn it into a closed space?
Why is a closed space a problem? Well, where’s the respect for the students who can’t make it—often you, as readers—whose only access to a meeting held for your sole benefit, until next year through rather cursory minutes, is a story in The Medium?
But the fact is, it didn’t turn out to be a closed space. Yes, after long discussion and the mutual desire to avoid another confrontation at the door, we were told we could take audio (as if we could be turned away), as well as photos at the start and end of the meeting. To which I agreed.
But it was way less closed than that. UTMSU’s photographers took photos and video throughout. Even Khogali took photos with his phone, after having said that photos weren’t allowed inside the room. People in line asking questions, those for whom sensitivity was supposed to have been required, had photos and video taken of them by the staff (with consent, they said—hmm, our staff wasn’t asked).
So what are we supposed to infer? There’s one type of respect that uses polite phrases. But there’s another type, in my opinion more important, that simply deals fairly with people.
Meanwhile, at the AGM, concerns were raised about The Medium that are worth bringing to us directly—after all, UTMSU is not the gatekeeper of The Medium—but which I’ll address quickly now.
One, someone proposed forming an inquiry board to look into how our and The Varsity’s finances are spent. Sure, go ahead; might I recommend starting with the financial records we both make public on our sites (on the “board of directors” pages).
Another concern was that you can’t sit on our board if you’re currently UTMSU or UTSU staff. True; you also can’t if you’re one of our own staff. Also, the board doesn’t have anything to do with editorial content. Those are the editors, who actually can’t be on the board of any other student society. It’s just a question of a conflict of interest.
In any case, we hold an AGM each year too, and since a constitution can’t be altered at a whim, if you want to change something about The Medium, you should definitely come.
Feel free to take pictures, too.