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Why student media has finally been liberated
By Emma Jacobs
Many students' unions advocate 'safe spaces' at their university or college to ensure students are kept safe from harm. While it is important students feel comfortable, there is a point at which the press gets 'gagged'.
Bath student journalist Tommy Parker proposed motion 314 at NUS’ National Conference 2016, which called for student media to be allowed to cover and comment on candidate's campaigns more freely. The motion was guillotined but time stood in Parker’s (and every other student journalists’) favour.
Parker believes that as students’ unions act as returning officers for a lot of student papers and a lot of censorship takes place.
‘The (students’ union) blocked us (Bath Impact) from doing opinion pieces on one of our officers, that wasn't great’.
He calls for an ‘open press, reputation or risk and free time press’.
Outgoing Student Publication Association (SPA) chair Jem Collins said too many students’ unions effectively gag their student newspapers on reporting anything but propaganda during their elections, and this is incredibly damaging to democracy.
‘Often these policies were probably well meant to prevent bias or unfairness, but in reality, the lack of a free press to hold candidates to account damages student democracy, leaving the electorate unengaged and uninformed.’
But there's hope in sight: ‘With proper regulation, it is not only possible, but advisable, to have a student press that is both unbiased and fair, but holds candidates to account,’ Collins said.
Dan Seamarks, incoming chair of the SPA, said student media should always be free to report content that matters to their audience, including students’ union elections.
‘It is the only independent body able to report on candidates and should be able to do so freely within usual ethical and legal boundaries. We back this motion and call upon both VP Union Development and Conference to vote for 314.’
The conference resolved:
1. For the vice president for union development to investigate how media groups can run better content for students’ unions officer elections.
2. For the vice president for union development to produce guidance for students’ unions media groups in running pieces that truly reflect candidates’ policy proposals and incumbent officer progress.
3. For the vice president for union development to work with external organisations, such as the National Student Television Association (NaSTA), Student Publication Association (SPA) and Student Radio Association (SRA) to help find effective avenues in supporting media groups in providing coverage during officer elections.
The implications of motions passed, rejected and withdrawn at National Conference 2016 will all have a huge impact for students. And finally, the student media will be able to truly comment on what actually goes on. Viva la free speech!
As an 18-year-old student in my last year of further education, I'm attuned to issues affecting students. Being surrounded by other young people and having to think about my future ensures I keep my ear to the ground. Writing within this framework is a privilege as historically NUS has been at the epicentre of student activism. As young people, we should be either setting or questioning the agenda. Our perspective of the news will set the direction the story takes and in my pieces I aim to explore the effects of the headline on policy surrounding young people and how much the government screws us over. After FE I plan to study journalism at university, after taking a gap year to volunteer and fulfil various cliches. In the meantime, I'll try to tackle the big issues (within a few hundred words).