Define democratic rights, right now. What comes to mind? Likely things we readily exercise here in Quebec, such as the right to vote, to protest, to be innocent until proven guilty. What about freedom of the press? That’s usually another qualifier for even the most basic of democracies.
But here on campus, there is a student group protesting the violation of their right to protest while blocking our right as a newspaper to be a free and unrestrained media outlet.
Concordia Against Tribunals is protesting the persecution of 25 student protesters involved in the anti-austerity movement from the spring of 2015, claiming that the university is violating the students’ democratic right to protest. But when it comes to freedom of the press, CATs is less inclined to see the injustice.
Namely, they’re busy kicking us out of public meetings on Concordia property because they’re afraid of us, or some other ridiculous reason.
Which, as a student publication, we’re pretty baffled by. After all, we’re the little guys too, often afraid of being sued (we have very limited resources) or constantly scrambling to get quotes from people who don’t believe it’s worth their time.
We don’t go to meetings to try and throw protesters under the bus. We go to meetings to do our job—letting those who were unable to attend know what they missed. We’re informants and watchdogs, not snivelling little tattletales.
The reaction from CATs made us realize there is a lot of ignorance floating around out there about what it is we do, and what it is journalists can do.
Here are some basics.
If your actions and words are not a matter of public interest, there is no way we can report on you. If you’re having an affair, skipping class, or are an anarchist, we have no right to drag your private life into the papers and write about you without your permission (unless you are the mayor of Toronto and smoking crack during your downtime).
However, if you are in public office, or are using students’ money to do things (maybe like running ASFA, or the CSU) your actions become public interest and we have the right to report on you, in the context of your involvement with student funds.
If you talk to someone, and know they are a journalist, all of your words are quotable. Reporters will usually tote around recorders to ensure that we are fair to our sources and quote them accurately, and make sure when someone says something contentious that we have proof of what they said days or years down the line if a source claims we misquoted them. It’s legal protection for us and a tool to ensure our accuracy, not a device used to manipulate you.
Also, “off the record,” and “without attribution,” are requests that a journalist can comply with out of politeness, but not out of legal obligation. This goes back to the ‘anything you say to a journalist while knowing they are a journalist they have a right to use,’ bit.
Now, there are shady reporters out there who don’t identify themselves and still try to get quotes. This is what defines a bad journalist, who is likely going to get their ass sued real fast, and is not—ever—what we encourage (or allow, for that matter) at The Concordian.
Now, let’s apply this quick lesson to CATs voting to kick our news reporter out of their public meeting.
Our reporter was there to let the general public know what happened during the meeting, which is what students fund us to do. We did not have the right to go around the room and name everyone there, but we did have the right to quote anyone who stood up at a public meeting to voice their thoughts and opinions.
Concordia’s policy on the temporary use of university space forbids the intimidation of an identifiable individual or group, which means our student reporter was supposed to be protected from a room full of hostility against the media.
What’s more, a reporter for The Link also identified themselves, but said they were not currently writing an article and were not kicked out of the meeting. That reporter—having identified themselves as such—had just as much of a right to publish anything said in that meeting as our reporter, yet they were allowed to stay.
Which brings us to our final and summed up critique: CATs, you are acting with ignorance. If you want to hold a meeting then we have the right to be there. If you want the protection of your democratic right to protest, stop blocking our democratic right to be free and unrestrained media.
Scratch us and we’ll scratch back. Your move, CATs.