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The importance of independent newspapers

by Nick Gertler April 3, 2018
The importance of independent newspapers

All levels of student government should support student news media at Concordia

I think most people would agree that a free and independent press is important. This is true in national, provincial and municipal contexts, but it is also true at our university. Concordia is fortunate to have two strong student news publications. They provide us with a platform to express ourselves, and they hold the university administration accountable. Most importantly, they keep our student organizations honest.

I have sat on committees and council meetings for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA), and I can say firsthand that the Concordia community is better for the existence of The Link and The Concordian. Yet, our student governance organizations don’t always seem to recognize the important role the student news media plays.

During the polling period of the most recent Concordia Student Union (CSU) elections, The Link published an editorial endorsing Speak Up, one of three slates running for the CSU executive. The Link is not affiliated with the CSU, and it is well within their right to publish whatever they want, whenever they want, so long as it abides by their code of ethics. Even so, in light of the editorial’s publication, CSU chief electoral officer Nicholas Roberts disqualified the entire Speak Up slate. He claims the editorial qualifies as campaigning during the polling period. By disqualifying Speak Up on that basis, Roberts is implying candidates have control over what The Link publishes. That implication directly contradicts the principle of free press.

This incident with the CSU and The Link is just the latest in a long line of infringements by student organizations. Last February, the ASFA executive cut ties with The Link because of a disagreement with the paper’s editorial slant and practices. The Commerce and Administration Students’ Association (CASAJMSB) considered following suit. These actions are inappropriate to say the least. ASFA has since apologized and reversed their decision, but none of it should have happened in the first place. To withhold access and demand changes from the student news media is an imposition on the media’s ability to report freely and accurately. Their ability to do so is always important, but it’s particularly important when the organizations involved are in charge of large amounts of student money.

The CSU and faculty organizations need to take a stronger stand on press independence. Article 425 of the CSU’s Standing Regulations states that the CSU “respects the role and independence of student media and believes that they play an essential role in the University community.” However, that stance is incompatible with other CSU regulations, including Article 316 which seeks to limit what our student news media can and cannot publish during elections.

ASFA is no better. Its governing documents make no mention of press independence or freedom. This has led to confusion over what role the student press plays during ASFA’s elections.

It’s well within the student body’s right to criticize the student news media. We are free to comment and hold it accountable. But, it needs to be made clear that, from a legal standpoint, the student press is free to publish what it pleases, within reasonable ethical standards. It’s not the role of any external organization to dictate what those standards are. Student group candidates cannot—and should not—control what is published, and organizations should not act as if they can.

All levels of student government need to enshrine a commitment to the independence of student news media in their governing documents. They also need to ensure that other regulations, like those governing elections, are in line with that stance, both in writing and in practice.

As a current ASFA executive, I will be working to implement these changes within the federation. I am now calling on my counterparts in other organizations, including the CSU, to do the same. We all benefit from a free press; it’s about time we support them.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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