Last week, an old debate was reopened at Concordia Student Union council with the voting down of a motion to have allow CUTV to film council meetings and post the results online. It’s an age-old question at this point: to film or not to film council meetings?
While the motion was defeated, the cameras were allowed to stay for the rest of the meeting. At Concordia, the issue of filming council meetings has been on the table for around 10 years. Some years, councils have voted to require filming, others have voted to ban cameras from their meetings, and some years the issue hasn’t come up.
Many councillors present at Wednesday’s meeting seemed highly reluctant and indignant at having to have a cameraman record the meeting.
Their reactions boggle the mind, since as elected representatives of a 30,000+ student body, they should be in favour of making their meetings accessible and their actions accountable to their constituents.
What are these 30-odd people so scared about? That concerned students will see how they voted in meetings? That we’ll see them on Facebook instead of paying attention? That we’ll see them coming in two hours late, or leaving three hours early? Several of councillors and executive members seemed downright shaken by the mere suggestion.
It’s not like the CSU doesn’t want to work with CUTV. As president Heather Lucas put in her own president’s report, which followed soon after, the previous week’s CSU town hall meeting went well and the CSU will be posting the footage from the event on their website — as soon as they retrieve the footage from CUTV.
Councillor Aaron Green was extremely hesitant, citing concern that posting whole sessions of the meeting online will encourage student apathy and discourage students from actually showing up to meetings. This whole argument is, in a word, bogus. For one, CSU meeting rooms can barely accommodate the 30 to 40 councillors, executive, chair, secretary, and members of the press, which averages 30 to 40 individuals. And, most students do not show up these meetings anyway. So, the question is moot. Why don’t we make it easier for students to watch their elected representatives deliberate in the comfort of their own home?
The moment these councillors signed their names on the line of their candidacy forms and their faces started appearing on posters all over campus last spring, they had given up a certain measure to privacy.
If you want to get involved and represent your fellow students’ interests, in addition to getting perks like free dinner once a month, a Le Gym membership and tickets to CSU speaker series, realize you are now living in the public eye. Any councillor’s actions can be scrutinized by the press and fellow students to make sure they are showing up to meetings, making intelligent comments and generally doing their job.
And it’s not like these meetings are not recorded. They are open to undergraduates and they’re reported on by the student press, who take notes, audiorecordings and tweet the outcome of meetings.
Few schools seem to film their student meetings, but Concordia is not alone. A number of American universities do so. Across Canada, many student unions permit audiorecordings and liveblogging. At the University of Victoria, filming is permitting and at the University of British Columbia, meetings are livestreamed.
A lot of the students getting involved with student governance no doubt aspire to higher office after their university careers are over. What a surprise, then, it will be when they show up to their municipal meetings, Nationly Assembly and parliament sessions and committees, only to see that those are recorded. Heck, there’s even a whole television channel devoted to the daily inanities of parliament. And even the most camera-shy forum, Montreal City Hall, started recently filming part of their meetings. The National Assembly livestreams every committee meeting and every assembly session.
With low voter turnout in student elections and few students showing up at these meetings, student unions should be reaching out to students, letting them know what is actually going on at their meetings, beyond the coverage provided by student newspapers. Let CUTV film you and post the unedited, “uneditorialized’ content online.
Take a page from the grownup politicians, and get your camera faces on.