Home Opinions Freedom of the press under attack

Freedom of the press under attack

by Archives March 14, 2001
It is a rare thing to see two competing student newspapers working together, much less lobbying for the same cause. But for the first time in history, the Concordian and the Link are banding together to promote one goal: preserving the freedom and independence of the student press at Concordia University.
When students vote in the Concordia Student Union’s general elections between March 27 and 29, they will be faced with a referendum question asking students to vote on a “Students Bill of Democratic Rights.” After a cursory glance, the bill looks harmless enough. Using such loaded words as “transparent,” and making broad claims about students’ “RIGHT to participate and effect (sic) change in student-funded organizations,” we wouldn’t blame the average student from viewing this as “a beacon of democracy,” as CSU VP Communications Tom Keefer described it at a recent council meeting.
In fact, this bill is the student government’s attempt to impose arbitrary rules on groups that have no legal or constitutional connection with the CSU, including The People’s Potato, Le Frigo Vert, QPIRG, the Concordia Women’s Centre, and the two student papers. If the Concordian and the Link don’t comply, the bill says the CSU will lobby the university’s Board of Governors to cut off the newspapers’ fee levy. In other words, Rob Green and the rest of the CSU are ordering the press to play by their rules, or face destruction. This doesn’t sound very “democratic” to us.
Threatening press freedom
The role of student newspapers is very different from that of student associations or clubs. Both are essential and equally important, but their operations must be independent of each other. Freedom from external control of both editorial policy and internal operations is essential for a newspaper to remain responsible. Student governments are often the major subject of front page news in a student newspaper-the purposes of investigative journalism can obviously never be served when the subject of an article in the paper dictates either editorial content, or how the paper is run.
Both the Concordian and the Link are autonomous organizations that get their funding directly from students-without the CSU’s involvement or intervention. Student newspapers which have achieved autonomy have often had to fight their student associations to get it. In 1986, CUSA (the precursor to the CSU) was in full support of the Concordian and the Link’s autonomy referendum.
Both newspapers have their own mechanisms for resolving disputes, managing finances, and electing staff. The student press is both open and accountable. Feel free to drop by the Concordian’s and the Link’s offices, and we’ll be happy to help you get involved.
Although Green and the other CSU executives continue to pledge their support for a free press at Concordia University, this bill contravenes the autonomy agreement signed between CUSA and the two newspapers in 1986. No matter how altruistic it may sound, it attempts to legislate the inner workings of the Concordian and the Link, and this represents a clear threat to the independence of the student press. This still doesn’t sound “democratic” to us.
Back-room deals
Considering this is such a far-reaching piece of legislation, you would expect that the CSU would have consulted with all of the affected groups. The Concordian’s staff were informed about the bill about 24 hours before it was passed through council, and the Link’s editors only learned of its existence second-hand. Although Green told the Council of Representatives on Feb. 28 that he’d consulted with all of the other affected groups, including the People’s Potato, Le Frigo Vert, and the Concordia Women’s Center, the CSU is now scrambling to make changes to theproposal, in an effort to address these groups’ objections. Rumour has it that Green is going to propose even more changes at Wednesday’s Council of Representatives meeting, even though the campaigning period has already begun.
This really doesn’t sound “democratic” to us.
Don’t be fooled. “The Students Bill of Democratic Rights” is the CSU’s desperate attempt to harness control over the student press. Don’t let them do it. Vote “no” in this month’s CSU referendum. Democracy without a free press is no democracy at all.

If you would like a copy of the bill, or want to ask questions, drop by or give us a call later this week:
– the Concordian, room CC 431 (Loyola), (514) 848-7499
– the Link, room H-649 in the Hall Building (downtown), (514) 848-7405

Related Articles