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Fighting for student newspapers on campus

We all know the importance of newspapers in a democratic society—but we should also acknowledge the importance of student newspapers on campuses. Not only are they an outlet for student creativity, they are a way to convey stories that are important to those who attend these institutions. It seems like this integral part of universities is being challenged in Ontario.

In January 2019, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced changes to post-secondary funding and costs. The Ontario government wants to lower student tuition by 10 per cent, which, at first glance, seems great. According to a News Release by the government, the tuition rate reduction is a step to “keep more money in the pockets of Ontario students and families.” But one of the changes brought forth in this plan is the Student Choice Initiative. Through this initiative, the government wants to give every student the choice of which student fees will be paid and how that money will be allocated, according to the same source.

Some campus-wide services such as athletics and walksafe programs will remain mandatory. These ancillary fees range from $500 to $2,000 annually, according to The Globe and Mail, and contribute to services like campus newspapers, LGBTQ+ centres, and student government. The Student Choice Initiative gives students the choice to opt-out of paying for fees that are deemed non-essential. While it may seem great, in theory, to give students a choice like this, it isn’t beneficial for important services on campuses that rely heavily on these fees to exist and function.

According to a recent survey by OneClass, a Toronto-based education technology company, 57.4 per cent of students would opt out of fees used to fund student newspapers, if given the choice. The survey, taken by almost 600 Ontario college students, highlighted how damaging this initiative will be for campus newspapers in Ontario, and elsewhere too.

We at The Concordian are not the only ones concerned about the proposed changes. Many student groups have protested this change, stressing how this initiative can hurt student unions that fund services important to many students, according to The Globe and Mail. We are worried that by deeming student newspapers “unessential,” the Ford government is encouraging the narrative that media and journalism are not a key component of our democratic society.

Student newspapers give students a chance to make their stories heard. Not only do they promote the idea of free speech, they give us an opportunity to put it into practice. Student newspapers improve communication between different groups and highlight distinct voices. They hold universities accountable and call problematic figures into question—like how The Concordian has been following the sexual misconduct allegations at Concordia since they arose. More than a year later, we still use the space in our newspaper to shed light on the allegations, their aftermath, the authority figures involved, and how all of this affects students. Students dedicate their time and effort to investigating these important stories, and break news that affects us all in one way or another. These bundles of papers also provide a space for those who want to participate in reasonable debates.

They’re not non-essential. Frankly, they matter a lot. They’re an integral part of what makes university life so unique. Student newspapers, student groups, centres for minorities—all of these services combined allow different people to come together and function in a space where they can learn and flourish together. They all advocate for students’ interests—isn’t that enough of a reason to consider them important?

If it weren’t for student newspapers, you wouldn’t be able to read this editorial. You wouldn’t be able to read the various stories and events covered by students at our university. You wouldn’t have the opportunity to have your own voice heard. You wouldn’t have the space to call authority figures into question—be it in our own school or in the country. Student newspapers matter. We at The Concordian believe that by giving students the illusion of choice, the Ford government is actually forcing campus newspapers to give up and vanish. Where’s the choice in that?

Graphic by @spooky_soda

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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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Saying ‘yes’ to student press

Some of you may have heard about the recent existence referendum held at McGill University to decide whether or not The McGill Daily and Le Délit—McGill’s only francophone newspaper—should continue to publish on campus.

McGill students could cast their vote between Nov. 13 and 16. According to Inori Roy, the coordinating editor at The McGill Daily, just over 64 per cent of the university’s undergraduate and graduate students voted in favour of keeping the newspapers running. Just under 36 per cent voted “no.”

Needless to say, we at The Concordian were very pleased to learn that these newspapers will be staying on campus. We would like to take it as a sign that the student press is still valued. In an interview with Roy, we learned more about the referendum and the power of the student press.

According to Roy, the existence referendum is a normal occurrence that happens every five years. The process indicates to the administration that the newspapers still have the student body’s support before the university renegotiates its agreement with the publications to allow them to collect fees from students, rent space on campus and distribute newspapers at McGill.

The two newspapers that were part of the referendum are published under the Daily Publications Society (DPS), a student-run organization at McGill. “The DPS wanted to keep us alive,” Roy said. “Besides the ‘No’ campaign, there was no one who particularly wanted us to shut down.” According to Roy, many of the issues put forward by the ‘No’ campaign “were founded on misinformation and lies, and so they had issues with our editorial line.”

The McGill Daily, which has existed since 1911, has a mandate to publish anti-oppression and anti-racist articles that might not be covered by mainstream media, Roy said. By publishing such pieces, the publication’s staff hope to give a voice to marginalized students on campus.

Despite the referendum result and high voter turnout, there is still work to be done to increase student engagement and interest in on-campus publications. It is important to remember that the student press not only informs readers about campus news and gives students a space to freely express themselves—it also holds universities accountable.
Our thoughts are mirrored by Roy. “We often write stories about things that are happening in student governments that otherwise wouldn’t get out,” she said. “I think we provide a better service in openly criticizing and being aware of the mistakes the administration is making and trying to provide them with this insight on what students need. So I think the integrity of student governments and administrative action would be severely compromised if we ceased to exist.”

As McGill’s existence referendum also highlights, student engagement is the driving force behind the student press. We at The Concordian strive to continuously publish stories that are interesting and important, to keep our readers informed and involved in campus life, and to help students improve their writing skills and express themselves. We are also grateful to every student, faculty and staff member who take the time to pick up a copy of our newspaper. Thank you for reading.

We at The Concordian would like to congratulate The McGill Daily and Le Délit for being able to continue doing what they do best for the next five years. We hope they continue to shed light on the stories that deserve to be told and encourage the students who want to write them.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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