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.
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.