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City's tabloid newspaper ban, from the inside

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With all of City, University of London's astounding achievements across the board it is so shameful that we've been viral in the papers over banning three tabloids from school premises. The one time the SU actually gets listened to is the time that's made us look like massive idiots.

However, most that I've read in the past few days seems to either be extremely angry and biased, or very opinionated and outraged... doing very little to solve the problem, take a practical look at it, or even actually analyse the scale of impact a proposition of this sort could have.

As founding member of the upcoming Student Media Society and socially active journalism student at City, I do believe there's indeed a side of the story that's been lagging in the background. Here's a more in-depth look at everything that's been going on.

It's an unrealistic motion

In Thursday's Annual General Meeting the Student Union held a debate on whether the proposal of actively discouraging the circulation of The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Express should be pushed by the Student Union as their policy. Such motion, birthed by Nicholas Owen, Creative Writing and Publishing student, reads as follows.

Let's also add that the word “fascism” was misspelled in the title in the first place. In all honesty, this motion wouldn't have even been taken into consideration at a high-school Model United Nations hearing or middle school government simulation. It is worded quite loosely and proposes nothing of any solid value whatsoever.

 

First things first. The motion never mentions the word ban, it goes around it, trying to dodge the bullet and coming across as a piece of meaningless legislation overall.

Secondly, the motion does very little to explain the methods of implementation of such policy. How are we supposed to discourage the circulation of such newspapers if we have no newspaper selling points or stands on university premises? We cannot fine or arrest anybody for walking in with a tabloid in their hands, let alone visiting the website.

In addition, a solid slice of the people in the journalism department (both staff and students) are employed or have been contributing to one of those three newspapers, as well as constantly actively referring to them and analysing during classes and case studies. So banning them is not even imaginable.

In fact, after the scandal I had the pleasure to chat with Nick, although he didn't agree to an official interview. The little I was able to gather, and hope he won't mind if I share, I believe that his intentions weren't as crude as those portrayed by the media, as he didn't want to actively ban the publications and fall into the fascist censorship pit he's stuck in now.

Rather he probably would like to discourage the readership of those papers as they often fuel hatred, racism and Islamophobia, representing a political stance he might personally feel the SU shouldn't endorse. Fair. We respect every student's view. SUs are after all the nestling den for lefties in all forms and shapes, probably myself included. And if the motion had said “racism has no place in City University” I'm sure everybody would have agreed.

It just happens to be that the whole situation was dealt with in a clueless way and spiralled into a vicious cycle of bullshit.

Democracy fails us once again

So if the motion overall is bullshit then how did it pass the vote of an Annual General Meeting?

In case you didn't know, in the AGM students propose motions, and discuss and vote upon them. If motions pass they become official SU policy that has to be campaigned for. According to City SU's constitution the few lucky puppets that happened to show up to that meeting end up writing the SU agenda for the rest of the year. There were roughly 190 students present on that Thursday evening. That's barely 1% of the 19,000 student population at City.

That's a blame to share equally as, yes, the SU's public relations aren't of the best quality. But City students also tend to be quite uninterested by default. This unfortunately is yet another thermometer of how little attention is actually given to the SU and how little the students are active in the union's affairs for most of the times. The sink-hole in the democratic process rules sovereign once again. Almost definitely if 20 more of us had shown up to that evening assemble there would have been enough healthy minds in one room to scorn this policy right away. Too late to say now.

It's all fun and games to complain about it all, but we should have been there voting and doing something about it; victimisation is often a tactic to avoid being held to account for something, and no vote sometimes is a vote too.

 

That said, it's astonishing that in the internet world we still haven't devised a method of sending out these debated policies to all students to vote upon, maybe even from their bedrooms, just to ensure a realistically democratic process. We all had a chance to electronically cast a vote on whether we wanted a fucking comma in our university name or not, but almost all the student body was completely unaware of the annual meeting happening, let alone the effect it would have on student life, or of course the policies being discussed and the stupidity of them.

So if it's not actually the SU that passed this policy themselves, and the few students present at the AGM do not really represent the voice of the students, but just members of very specific societies that have very specific agendas to push, then when is it that the actual SU comes to play?

The three musketeers

After my meeting with the Student Union president and vice-presidents, I seem to have understood they now have their hands tied and are stuck with having to campaign for this policy until somebody else does something about it.

This is obviously ridiculous put this way, but at the end of the day, if that's what the people have chosen it would be even more anti-democratic to provide three musketeers with the dictatorial power to single-highhandedly override a policy, no matter how delusional. Plus, if they had had this power, maybe they wouldn't have used it anyway: Cameron listened to the people and accepted Brexit, no matter how much crap Britain has to wade through now.

Basically, we wanted democracy and democracy it is.

Out of the three leading members of the SU, two abstained to the policy and one voted in favour. With hindsight, all three seem rather regretful of their decisions, but it is crucial to respect all students' views - and if this is what they voted this is what they wanted.

But then again, angry me asks many questions. How can a Student Union not take into consideration the impact and influence they have on the students, think through their decisions more lucidly or work to further represent the student body? If the policy was impossible to implement then why the fuck vote for it in the first place?! Finally, if the SU is fully aware of the impact of national headlines using the word 'ban' when 'ban' was never in the motion to start with, why did they not IMMEDIATELY release a statement?

What's important to understand is that the SU is now just campaigning for the policy, as they cannot implement the policy yet, or by themselves for that matter.

Ideologically

All of this mess seems to boil down to ideology then, if nothing has actually been done.

I want to believe the motion was coined in the midst of an attempt to stand up for belief in human rights and fight against oppression, Islamophobia and racism. I'm sure that nobody actively campaigning against this proposition is in any way in favour of disrespectful behaviour towards anybody.

 

What happened after that is literally just a vicious cycle of the situation slipping out of control. Getting caught up in the social pressure of fighting against racism and oppression and, having demonised the tabloid press, those students have forgotten that banning press and free speech is the first step in fascist action plans.

We've said it over and over again; banning has never been on the right side of history and a journalism-driven university banning three national newspapers is probably one of the most stupid things I've ever heard. We should all be aware that blocking out an argument without discussing it and debating it only acerbates the issue without actually doing anything about it.

If you do not agree with the views of tabloid newspapers then do not read them. University should be a safe space for freedom of speech and, fighting for diverseness of sources and opinions every second of the school day. No platforming policies and censorship are deteriorating the role of universities as well as the lifestyle of students, as we become intolerant and close-minded on the differing sides of the spectrum.

There's no point in underlining how stupid and badly thought through the policy overall is; rather we should look at how the unrepresented lot are going to change this motion as quickly as possible and fight against this idiocy.

What now

The head of the journalism department, Suzanne Franks, has been very blatant in her stance upon the subject, highlighting how important it is for the faculty to ensure that we always look to a wide variety of sources for our journalistic work and career.

George Brock, former head of department, got the news from us first thing Friday morning during our Feature Writing workshop. As he listened patiently to my waffling as I interrupted him while he was trying to teach, he reassured us – like he did in The Guardian – that the way to combat bad journalism is just doing some good journalism.

What hasn't been in the press is our immediate reaction and counteraction to the situation. Given that we – mostly journalism students – were astonishingly unhappy with the event, we've taken action. We've appealed to the NUJ, we've looked into how to appeal to the Trustee Board, our union council chair (basically the body which overlooks the SU) has requested an urgent meeting, we've signed petitions, we've tweeted and shared, we've given out quotes and lamented, we've written about it - oh yeah rest assured, we've written about it - and most importantly we're already preparing for the General Meeting in February.

As journalism students we will work closely with the Student Union in order to set out an action plan to implement this motion in a way that is as positive as possible. No banning of newspapers, no fascistic counteractions to fascism, no school policies pulled out of a hat. If that is not to our satisfaction, at that February General Meeting we will propose a motion to repeal or override the tabloid ban.

Opting out of the Student Union, as I pondered upon myself for all of Friday morning, is most probably of no use. Analogically, as banning press is no way of confronting the views we're uncomfortable with, then opting out of the organisational body for our university is in no way a step towards making it any better. If anything, now we've been reminded that in order to be represented we need to be participating. Sitting back and complaining should never have been an option and, as moronic as things have got, we're stuck with what we've got partly because of our own non-actions.




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