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If SSMU Council won’t stand up for campus press, students must

Editorial/Opinion by

For some, campus publications have become proxies for different opinions on recent Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) controversies, most notably the Oct. 22 SSMU General Assembly and divisions within the executive.

The Nov. 2 SSMU Legislative Council meeting saw a surreal turn of events in this trend, when the Council failed to pass a motion endorsing a “yes” vote to the Daily Publications Society’s (DPS) upcoming existence referendum. The DPS funds the publication of student newspapers Le Délit and The McGill Daily. Held every five years, the referendum asks students to fund the DPS through a non-opt-outable fee. For undergraduate students, this is $6 per student per semester. During the Jan. 2013 referendum, Council endorsed the DPS’ existence near unanimously.

Regardless of current views on SSMU, the Council’s failure to endorse the DPS’ existence is shameful. It is a failure to endorse a diversity of independent publications—and, by extension, a critical, balanced, and representative campus press, an essential tenet of SSMU’s democratic legitimacy.

Council members who voted against the motion, including SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, argued that it would seem like an endorsement of The McGill Daily specifically, and the paper’s current editorial stances—in particular, in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Others claimed that they did not want to influence how their constituents should vote. Moreover, councillors took issue with backing a fee that requires all students to support the paper, including those who disagree with the political views it publishes.

However, that is precisely the point of any non-opt-outable student fee—that its recipient’s purpose is of significant value to the student body as a whole, even if individual students disagree with it or do not directly make use of it. As members of SSMU, all undergraduate students pay fees that support clubs and services across campus—and across political lines, from Socialist Fightback to Conservative McGill—because SSMU and students recognize that it is valuable to have a diversity of voices on campus. Likewise, and as council members who focused solely on the Daily’s commentary section failed to recognize, the DPS is vital to all students because it maintains an independent and varied campus press.

DPS publications are essential to McGill’s media ecosystem. They comprise two of the three independent student newspaper on campus. Each paper’s respective commentary and news sections balance the others, even when they align, but especially when they conflict. In the Daily’s case, it has served that ecosystem for over 100 years. Over that time, editorial lines have changed with each respective editorial board. If students or student leaders feel that the Daily is unrepresentative of their political views—or even exclusionary of them—they should absolutely correct the record, either through their own commentary, a letter to the editor, or at the paper’s Annual General Meeting.

 

When divisive politics warp public conversations, on campus or off, maintaining a free and diverse press is more vital than ever.

But if the DPS’ upcoming existence referendum fails to pass, both Le Délit and The McGill Daily will cease to exist. Crucially, the former is the school’s only Francophone news publication. Council members who voted against the motion to advance grievances with the Daily’s editorial stances were willing to treat Le Délit—and all of the French-speaking students that it serves—as collateral damage. These members’ main arguments against the Daily concerned inclusive representation of an entire student body in campus press—the hypocrisy is stunning.

Further, the value of any paper is far more than its editorial slant. The DPS publications cover arts and culture, sports, and technology, all through a student lens. Moreover, in the absence of a McGill journalism program, the DPS plays an essential educational role. For McGill students interested in journalism, Le Délit and The McGill Daily provide opportunities to cultivate invaluable skills and experience.

Fundamentally, both papers share and execute a chief responsibility of the student press: To hold SSMU governing bodies accountable. Last Winter semester, the Daily broke the story on sexual assault and sexual violence allegations against former vice-president external David Aird. The exposure culminated in Aird resigning, as well as former president Ben Ger stepping down amid allegations of gendered violence. It also renewed a vital conversation about gaps in campus sexual assault policy, at the SSMU and administrative levels. The Daily held SSMU accountable in a situation where SSMU was failing. That is what our newspapers exist to do, and no single campus publication can do it alone. A vote against the DPS is a vote to cut off two major sources of democratic accountability.

At the meeting, a councillor concerned about SSMU endorsing the Daily cited the current political climate on campus. They had it backwards. When divisive politics warp public conversations, on campus or off, maintaining a free and diverse press is more vital than ever. Voting on the DPS existence referendum opens Nov. 13. On Nov. 2, SSMU Council failed to see the necessity of a varied, independent campus press. It’s up to students to correct that.

 

  • Iris

    Thank you for this!!! So important and so nice to see solidarity between campus publications, when people love to tear one down to lift the other! To the Trib 2017 EdBoard: I love you

  • Anon

    Excellent to see solidarity between publications, and a much needed editorial piece. Thank you.

  • Saint Emerance

    Couple of points.
    First – what is the point of or value of an endorsement if non-endorsement unacceptable? Why vote on it at all?

    Second: What is the precedent for endorsements/non-endorsement of this sort?

    Third: Supporting a student press as a general principal does not require that the SSMU endorse every publication that fits that category, let alone endorse specific funding mechanism a levy to support them.

    Fourth: The argument that non-opt-out-fees exist to support organizations like the Daily so council should endorse a such a fee for the Daily is tautological: it says nothing about whether the DPS should specifically receive this fee, let alone receive council’s endorsement to do so.

    Fifth: “Council members who voted against the motion to advance grievances with the Daily’s editorial stances were willing to treat Le Délit—and all of the French-speaking students that it serves—as collateral damage.”
    This is the logic of a hostage taker. The fact that the fate of Le Delit is tied to that of the Daily, and subject to consequences arising from the Daily’s actions, is on the DPS, not council.

    The Daily is a specific organization, producing a specific product. They have a specific obligation to earn the votes of the student body. That means that they need to make a case as to why the DPS *in particular* deserves this fee that relies on what value they offer to students that doesn’t depend on idealistic abstractions like “the press.” I can imagine any number of abstractions that deserve that money more.

    • DemocracyDiesInDarkness

      Did you read the article? These points seem to be based on the headline alone. You’ll find the answers to these questions in the article. Your arguments are, at best, half-baked and myopic.

      1) This is not a matter of endorsing for the sake of endorsing. This editorial makes multiple cogent points about why it’s important for the student government to support student press. Read the article.

      2) The precedent for endorsing the student press is there. Again, read the article.

      3) True, but the McGill Daily has clearly demonstrated that it is a valuable outlet on campus. Did you read the article? It has broken dozens of stories that have impacted not just student government, but also the McGill administration writ large. It is engaged in the Montreal community, arguably more so than any other campus paper. It brings a distinct perspective and represents the voices of many on campus. It is an educational space for those seeking to learn about writing, editing, design, photography, illustration, web development, business, and so on. It empowers students to grow and become leaders.

      4) Did you read the article? Many, many points are made about why the Daily is uniquely valuable in the media system at McGill. I think it’s clear that the Daily is valuable to Montreal, Quebec, and Canada as well. For example, it has produced journalists who have gone on to have a national impact, such as Eric Andrew-Gee.

      5) You cannot separate Le Délit and the Daily for the purposes of this vote. Destroying both papers because of ideological differences between a voter and the Daily’s editorial stances sets a dangerous precedent. If you have a problem with the views expressed in the Daily, write a letter to the editor. Engage. Don’t just vote “No” because you can’t be bothered to engage on a regular basis, but feel pissed off enough to eliminate an amazing opportunity for hundreds of McGill students. That is an irresponsible use of your power as a student.

      Some additional thoughts:

      Student publications do not use a subscription-based funding model because it would not be possible for them to make the necessary revenue in order to publish print and online content. A non-opt-outable model is necessary to its function. As far as I understand, they are not asking for an increase in addition to approval for their existence. They just want to continue to be able to provide what they already do. Student publications do not make a profit. They use their funding (usually also includes advertising, but at this makes up a *much* smaller percentage of revenue than student fees) to pay a (very small) stipend to their editors (again, super small, does not even come close to covering the hours student journos dedicate to the paper), pay for printing and web services, and to use for activities to further serve students & engage them in issues in media (for example, annual journalism conferences). Unlike most media, which is scaling back its print, the student papers at McGill are able to provide learning opportunities for students across mediums. Voting “No” in this referendum is *not* a protest of the Daily’s content—it is the elimination of a rare and valuable learning opportunity for those aspiring to think critically, be involved on campus, and develop their skills.

      I can’t help but be concerned about what would have happened had it been the TPS up for the referendum this year (its referendum is next year). Both papers have been lighting a fire under SSMU. It is their job to do so. The student journalists are working hard, on top of being students at McGill, to hold student leaders accountable. Reducing the number of publications will mean less people to find and write stories of impact. Less resources holding McGill institutions accountable. That SSMU Council would abdicate this opportunity to provide leadership on the matter is alarming.

      I would recommend that you attend the meetings of any of the student papers if you feel this strongly. Go to the annual AGM and express what you want to see. Submit an opinion article—the editors will teach you to make a proper argument, which you clearly need some help with. Do not destroy something that has existed since 1911 because you disagree with the content (for reference, the Tribune has existed since 1981 and Le Délit since Bill 101).

    • IvEllis

      Exactly.

      The Daily censors every minor dissent from its hardline editorial stance. My mom was a Daily editor and its line was left-liberal… probably reflecting the majority opinion on campus. I suspect that (small-l) “liberal” would also be the majority opinion today. But the Daily then was always open to lively debate in its letters and opinion pages. Today it is more like Pravda; if you disagree you don’t get published (my online comments invariably end up in the censorship bin); you get vilified.

      The Daily is not really a “news”paper; it rarely covers anything of relevance to ordinary McGillians. It is a poorly-written, atrociously-edited political rag with a bare minimum of “general interest” window dressing. If we are supporting a publication with a non-opt-outable fee, it should at the very least reflect our interests, if not our opinions. It’s high time that the Daily fee ceased being mandatory.

      (P.S. None of the above applies to The Tribune!)

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