Editorial Independence Threatened: An Open Letter from the Wessex Scene

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Article by Daniel Webb and Jessica Fuhl

Right now, today, the topic of injunctions and the right to privacy and freedom of speech are being debated in the media. Newspapers across the country are speaking out in protest after not being able to cover the story of a footballer who had an affair; and just this morning, Prime Minister David Cameron himself labelled the whole debacle ‘unfair’.

At the same time, we at the Wessex Scene feel we are effectively being censored, and have been for the past year. SUSU is intended to support the Wessex Scene, a department within SUSU which is supposed to be a journalistically independent entity, whilst protecting the overall integrity of SUSU as an organisation. It is the job of the Wessex Scene to ensure our sabbaticals, and all students in positions of power, are made accountable for their actions.

Unfortunately, throughout this year, the Wessex Scene team has been prevented from publishing a number of articles, images and even a cartoon.

The catalyst for this letter was the latest issue of the Wessex Scene in print, a special edition on Sex, Drugs and Alcohol, three things closely linked to many students lives here in Southampton. After a long and drawn out period of preparation (more than goes into a standard edition) the editorial team decided to re-run last year’s sex survey asking more questions whilst also finding out about Southampton students’ drug and alcohol use.

Unfortunately, we were told that the survey we produced “wasn’t of any use to the Union” and didn’t supposedly fit the values of the Students’ Union – remember that list of words you were supposed to associate with the logo redesigns?

We were then told that the front cover design, produced by two Winchester School of Art Students, didn’t fit the values of the Union either and due to the minimal cleavage and general sexual nature was unacceptable as a front cover in the SU as it was a place “where children may see it” – we kid you not. For this reason we are unable to show you the image we talk about, but can send you to to this link to view it for yourselves on one of our editor’s personal blogs – (if you are with any children please cover their eyes now!):

http://jessicafuhl.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/editorial-independence-threatened-an-open-letter-from-the-wessex-scene/

For us, this last desperate attempt at making the Wessex Scene just another marketing tool for the Union was the last straw.

This year we have also been censored on a number of other occasions. We were prevented from publishing the following cartoon produced by students who collaboratively go by the name Ten-a-Penny, because it actively offends each and every student at our University:

http://tenapenny.net/100930.html

We were prevented from publishing an article about a student who smuggled nun chucks and similar objects across an Asian border, presumably in case the country itself tried to sue the Students’ Union, and because it simultaneously promoted the idea of smuggling; apparently following the article people would know where to go to commit the crime.

We were also prevented from publishing an anonymous article which interviewed a local drug dealer.

The whole issue of the student elections coverage is a similar problem. Whilst this debate is a whole other issue, it highlights the ways in which this damages not only the Wessex Scene but SUSU as a whole, as the majority of reporting on the elections was left to the our friendly rivals the Soton Tab, who have no obligation to fair journalism and impartiality. For that reason we believe it is ultimately in SUSU’s favour to allow us to report on such issues.

Whilst we do not think the Wessex Scene should provide anything other than fair comment and reporting, we do believe we should have the right to evaluate the situation journalistically and come to the assumption that while Sam Ling appears to be a legitimate candidate, Derek Mallinson is clearly not.

The Union has also severely restricted the scope of some articles through it’s ‘Staff-Student protocol’, which stops students from commenting on the actions of paid members of staff, restricting members of the Wessex Scene from talking to any staff at the Union other than sabbatical officers, and leading many of our articles to sound rather like Union press releases.

Some student newspapers in other parts of the country have similar protocols – but with their University, not the Union. In a conversation with The Cambridge Students’ Editor, she expressed shock when told our Union was still doing this. A Union which is meant to work with, and support, the students they represent.

There have also been several other occasions where articles have been taken out of an issue by the Union before going to print and replaced.

We are well aware that the Union fund the Wessex Scene. However, almost every other student publication in the country is also funded by their Union, and although there are always issues surrounding this, they are still able to publish certain stories. It’s a simple case of being able to hold people to account, something which publications should be able to do.

The Union have a Sabb Pullout in every issue of the Wessex Scene; they have a Sabbs’ blog where they can communicate anything they want to students; they have a website to connect with students; they have a communications budget that can be used for posters, campaigns and adverts; they have two fresher magazines and a DVD as well as re-fresher material that goes out to every student at the start of each year. Yet we still feel that the Wessex Scene is being treated as SUSU’s mouthpiece, a communication tool to ‘reflect their values.’

Students are supposed to be at the centre of discussion, debate and innovation; we are meant to be the ones who lead the innovation, or at least push boundaries in ways that our older generations no longer can. So we find it very difficult today to understand why, as a members of the Wessex Scene Editorial Team, we are constantly working against the Union who it seems have prevented us from doing the above on numerous occasions.

Furthermore, applications for The Guardian Student Media Awards are currently open, and explicitly say they are looking to award their prestigious ‘Student Publication of the Year’ to ‘risk takers who stand out from the crowd.’ A few years ago, Surge News was short-listed for a Student Radio Award and when came they second were told on a feedback form that it was because they needed to take a few more risks and be bolder.

We understand that some students have quite strong opinions about the Wessex Scene, but surely our freedom of speech and right to expression is what is pivotal to this debate?

This letter has been written out of obligation to media independence here in Southampton, and to the students whom we effectively work for. As we are told so regularly, SUSU is “run by students for students.”

This letter is an open letter and therefore the Wessex Scene  have decided that there is no need to offer the right to reply before publication, but welcomes any response which we are happy to publish online.  Hopefully this article will remain online for some time…

Please leave us your comments below.

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Discussion68 Comments

  1. avatar

    This is a brilliantly crafted piece of journalism. I agree with all the points raised, and think it’s brilliant that you’ve raised them. Hopefully this issue can be resolved, so that next year the Wessex Scene can re-establish itself as the best student publication around. I’m feeling a motion for Union Council, in order to get more debate going. But for now, this is a great article!

    Sasha Watson
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    This doesn’t need a motion to Union Council, the pulling of articles is solely down to the VP Communications. They may get advice from staff or other Sabbaticals, but it is their decision alone. So essentially that Sabbatical should be held to account if someone disagrees with what they do – which is what should happen anyway.

    All Sabbs should be held to account – the Wessex Scene can be one of those methods, as long as it goes about it in the right way and does its research. Clearly, here it has, with plenty of backing up.

    That said, this should be sent to chair@susu.org to be read at Union Council and discussed formally there too.

    Stranger
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    Actually this is the proper route for accountability

    Standing order 11 in the constitution

    http://www.susu.org/downloads/Constitution.pdf

    Sasha Watson
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    Theres doing something that people dont agree with, and theres doing something that is unacceptable… Stealing money is unacceptable, censoring a paper is just a bad judgement call…

    What you need is Standing Order 8, the complaints proceedure, not SO 11, the Disciplinary one…

    Joe Tait
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    I think the general point is that it shouldn’t be an option for VP communications to pull an article or not – they have too much vested interest. Otherwise, why don’t we have govt run newspapers. I think the that is why Andre said a motion should be proposed; to make the Scene more independent by SUSU rule rather than just relying on a good communications officer.

    Also, it is is difficult for the Scene to hold the person censoring it too account surely?

    Sasha Watson
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    The difference here is that a) SUSU pays for the paper to be printed, at a substantial cost per issue, and b) the VP Comms is elected with the job remit to be the editor in chief of the Wessex Scene. If you think thats wrong, then in that case were back to the age-old argument of whether the WS should be completely independent, but then would it have to pay to be stocked in SUSU, and all sorts of other buggering questions

    Tom
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    Hi, a little off topic, but just a quick question about the funding of the paper.

    I understand that SUSU pays for the printing, but I assume that the advertising sold in the paper contributes to some of the cost. Is there any reason why there is no advertising online? Would it be possible for the paper to independently fund itself if advertising did expand?

    I’m sure there are many practical barriers to independence, but i’m just curious if financially it would be possible.

    Cheers.

    Sasha Watson
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    I dont know about the exact costings and how it all works, so I cant really comment apart from what I assume. From what Ive heard, the only cover space of any worth is the front/back cover of the paper, otherwise its a non-mover.

    I dont know about why its not online, maybe something for Joe to look into – sounds viable, but there must be something thats prevented it before? I’ve posted this to Mike and Joe to see if they have a comment

    Joe Tait
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    I wasn’t aware that the VP Comms is editor in chief, so apologies for my ignorance. I know at Warwick that this isn’t the case. The editor there is elected in the same way as the president of a society is, and I think that is better personally; it seemed to work fine and the lack of involvement is a good thing in abstract. Obviously all this would be better said/put in a motion etc, my main point was to apologise for my ignorance! 🙂

    Joe Tait
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    And just to point out, I am not disagreeing with your last point about which standing order should be used at all.

    JL
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    About 4 years ago (whilst I was a 3rd year student) I worked as advertising manager for the student newspaper at UEA (Concrete) and we used to raise enough money through advertising to cover the cost of each issue – so it is possible. Not sure how your paper works but ours used to have a new editor every year who had just finished their degree and got paid £13k a year by the union so we did have a trouble with union bias when it came to uni politics, but not really censorship of the kind you’re talking about.

  2. avatar

    Well said in every respect.

    I thought WS would never get around to this but it seems that the Sex issue, which is entirely student-related and was a great success last year, was the last straw.

    Time SUSU took notice of this and promoted a place where it’s members can grow as journalists, not as PR officers.

  3. avatar

    I can’t believe that that freshers week cartoon was denied the right to be published. Anyone who would seriously find it offensive may well be the sucessor to the late and certainly not great Mary Whitehouse. Its a completely harmless piece of amusing fluff.

    Its flabbergasting that a student union feels the need to act as moral conservative crusaders. What ever happened to the spirit of the LSD fueled revolutionary activists of the 60s?

  4. avatar

    I totally agree.

    SUSU has been getting it easy. It seems that if they’re not held accountable by the university press, then it just lightens their workload. By reporting and criticising when SUSU does do things wrong it will help to improve the union and not leave it trundling down the same old path of contentment. And as they say “contentment is the enemy of invention.”

    To me it has felt that there are those out there in managerial positions who are afraid of the backlash from the students if a negative story about SUSU is published, when in fact it is the students that make up SUSU, so feedback should, in fact, be encouraged.

    For all positive PR there are always the press releases.

  5. avatar

    Great Article and well written… the levels of SUSU super-injunction that seem to have been applied year have been ridiculous.

    Since when did getting elected somehow mean that you are more able to determine what students can or cannot read or whether or not they are capable of determining a well researched evidence based article from a poorly written inflammatory one.

    We’re all intelligent human beings, that is why were able to get into this University.

    The Editor-in-Chief could do herself a favour and try re-reading her own manifesto from last year (helpfully linked here) http://www.elections10.susu.org/charlotte

    And kindly point out where she asked the Students of the University of Southampton to vote for her for more Orwellian censorship and trust her to take moral judgements on our behalf and decide what we can and cannot read

    It is said that

    “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself”

    Trust me I’m pretty confident I can come to my own conclusions on other people’s opinions.

    SUSU learn to trust your students a little bit more… it’s not that long ago you were as ignorant (sic) as the rest of us…

    Nick Mould
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    Ironic that Charlotte Woods is a history student. Clearly she learnt the wrong lessons from Mao, Stalin and Hitler.

  6. avatar

    Wow, fantastic article. I have to agree with everything in there, the WS do need to be independent, they cannot simply be the Union’s mouthpiece. Accountability is hugely important and it is the role of the press and media to hold this union to account.
    A critical WS article, SUSUtv or Surge program does not mean they hate the union, just that they recognise things should be done better
    Also, news is news. If something happens in Southampton that is of interest to the student population, the WS should publish it or else the Soton Tab will.

  7. avatar

    Finally, an honest article like this! This week has been exemplary of how gagging orders and the like can cause media to fall behind. I totally agree that the censorship by SUSU was not right, and I hope this article brings to light some obvious issues in an otherwise very successful media department.

    Long live the free(er) Wessex Scene!

  8. avatar

    Read the article looked at the picture and the comic and to be frank I’m ashamed that this has happened. Having been an insider and now looking at SUSU as an outsider I get the impression that SUSU has become more corporate image centric and less Student centric. If the student media cannot cause controversy and ruffle a few feathers then I see little hope for rolling back the tide of apathy which seems to have overtaken our generation.

    The picture in question is nowhere near as risque as images you see across mainstream media every day. The comic I would argue far from offending every student group quite accurately satires stages every graduate or post graduate should be able to recognise from their own time at uni.

    It saddens me to see what I feel the Union I loved so much moving away from what for me is the entire point of a Student Union. Student Unions are meant to be there to support students and on occasion reign them in when they risk landing themselves criminal convictions. SUSU seems to have become risk averse and it no longer feels like it is run by students.

    I can see the reasoning behind the actions taken by the Union, which isn’t to say I agree with them. Censorship should always be avoided where possible, students are supposed to be well educated and open minded and as such SUSU should assume they are intelligent enough to deal with any risque subjects in an adult and reasoned fashion.

    It’s times like this that I really question student elections as I know had the results of the 2010 sabbatical elections been even slightly different this situation may not have arisen. That though is assuming it is the sabbatical team making these decisions and not union management. Even if that is the case there are times the sabbaticals should make a stand and if need be oppose the management and clearly this should have been one of them.

    The only restrictions that should ever be placed on the Wessex scene are to maintain where possible balanced views, be these through printing both sides of a debate or printing an impartial piece. Ensuring where possible that what is printed is true. Abiding by British Law. At the end of the day students involved in the media are amateurs they aren’t professional and they should be allowed to experiment while unrestricted by profit concerns.

    Student media should be the breeding ground of innovation and our journalists, radio hosts, tv producers etc should be experimenting and pushing the boundaries and above all learning so that when they go out and get jobs in the mainstream media they can bring what they have learned and help the nationals grow and innovate.

    At the end of the day SUSU is cutting its nose of to spite it’s own face, the student media here at Southampton University has the potential to be the best in the country and to really make waves, we could be producing the future leaders of media. Instead SUSU is crippling itself and failing as it has long done to live up to idea to its own ideals.

  9. avatar

    Agree entirely with all the comments you have made. Really well written and I hope that SUSU takes a notice of this letter. If they try pull it down STAND YOUR GROUND and keep it up!!

  10. avatar

    Brilliant points Dan.

    SUSU are an absolute joke for censoring anything at all unless particularly libellous or grossly offensive. The cover photo and cartoon are utterly harmless. Students are some of the least likely people to take offence at those kinds of things, and as other people have mentioned – even if we weren’t, who are the sabbs or SUSU to dictate what we can or can’t see or read?

    A friend of mine who worked for the Sheffield Steel and ended up editor said the freedom to publish articles that pissed people off enough to warrant death threats was probably the major reasons why they were (and are) consistently taken seriously in student media awards.

    It’s a crying shame that a select few in the SABB/SUSU positions are witholding the far more important wishes of student journalists who wish to push the boundaries.

    I hope those responsible own up, and it would be nice to see a public apology or explanation from Charlotte Woods seeing as this has all occurred under her watch.

    woodsy
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    Does Charlotte Woods even know how to type?

  11. avatar

    Completely agree with this article. Some of the examples given would be laughable if this wasn’t such a sad betrayal of students willingness to engage in their union.

  12. avatar
    Alistair Steward

    Brilliant article/letter guys, it needed to be said and I hope this prompts next years SUSU sabbs to take a more laissez faire approach when dealing with the media sections.

    Student life is all about new experiences and there is absolutely no reason why these cannot be discussed sensibly in the WS or any other medium: printing an article about drugs is not going to suddenly turn Hartley into an opium den (although some shisha would be welcome…). Indeed, having a forum to talk about these sort of issues like adults would probably help people make better judgements when thinking about taking drugs/having unprotected sex or whatever.

    As someone who is involved in the Soton Tab I feel obliged to insert a plug for our site, where for better or worse we don’t know the meaning of the word censorship- but I see no reason why there can’t be two (or more) outlets for challenging and controversial material in Southampton.

  13. avatar

    I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT THE CARTOON WAS CENSORED. What a load of pretentious, unconceited committees said that that should be censored? That is one of the most accurate reflections on university life I have seen. And union, it is meant to be funny! Honestly, will the union ban “banter” on the concourse/red brick area/cafe next for fear of offending someone? (If you want to be truly offended, go to Oceana on a Wednesday and tell the Solent students you are from the good uni 😛 …. “I’d rather be at Solent than a c***” mmmm lovely!) Sorry union but humour is almost a basic human right. We work hard, sleep little, eat badly etc etc etc. If someone wants to give us a bit of light relief in an artistic form then I don’t think that is for you to judge. Apologise for any repercussions after but don’t prejudge what your populace will think – you are far too small a group of people to ever truly represent the diversity of our amazing university anyway! I would try and end with a witty quote or something but, to be honest, I’m too busy hating all the undergrads for all that……

  14. avatar

    Several responses here. Long, so I apologise.

    Firstly, I am typing this from the same apartment complex in Reading from which I crafted the analysis of the election candidates that the Wessex Scene were unable to publish on the grounds of being opinionated. That decision sparked first the analysis being serialised on The National Student, and then the creation of Magpie’s Eye View – a blog which went on to gain several thousand hits, sparked a number of lively discussions on the issues in question, and even influenced the electoral strategy of one of the winning candidates. Maybe I wasn’t perfect, but I understand I did gain the respect of almost every candidate.

    Secondly, I am no fan of the Soton Tab’s particular editorial line, do not believe it to represent the majority of the student body, and genuinely despair at how it would veer into personal attacks (or maybe that’s because I like and respect Chloe Green). However, the basic principle of having an independent and critical source of student journalism is far more fundamental than the merits or otherwise of the Tab’s brand of politics. A Wessex Scene that exists as a promotional vehicle for SUSU is a terrifying thing to behold. At least with the Soton Tab, I can go all Voltaire on them: “I may disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.” I could exchange thoughts, and agree to disagree, with Chris and his team in a way that I never could with those running the Scene.

    Thirdly, the Scene isn’t even impartial in its censorship. Amidst the restrictions on its election coverage, slipping through the net was a puff piece by a sabbatical candidate on, of all things, Union politics. Said candidate (ironically also backed by Chris Houghton) lost, and I couldn’t have been happier.

    Fourthly, there is some independent journalism sneaking through the cracks. The coverage of Focus Sports has been a huge breath of fresh air, and when I was browsing through the Scene at the weekend waiting for the Women’s Aid fundraiser to start it was the one article that reminded me of what student journalism can and should be. (That’s independent of my own views on Focus Sports.)

    Fifthly, whilst I am personally a drug-free teetotaller, and personally midlly repulsed by the idea of sex, I have no complaints whatsoever with the idea of a Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol issue, especially if it is suitably planned and informative. (Indeed, part of that may include mentioning teetotal and/or asexual students, as I was.) Why on earth would other people have issue with that content when I, with good reason to be nauseous about it, am fine with it?

    Finally, I can only fervently hope that VP-elect Joe has the courage of his convictions to deal with this enormous issue. It dominates his remit for the year, and he will be judged on the extent of media independence next year.

    Because the last thing I want to see is student media “competition” between a right-wing slander site and a Union promotional freesheet. And if that is what we keep getting, well, let’s just say I’ll be in Southampton again next academic year…

    woodsy
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    Interesting points from a man who is the member of “The Associated Wizards Of The South”

    J-dog
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    Woodsy, don’t forget he’s a member of the “international brotherhood of magicians”. What is the magpie’s view anyway?

    Chris Houghton
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    You should work on finding better things to do than slagging me off every time you blog or comment on something Soton Uni related.

    Alistair Steward
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    I agree with your main points David but I think you’re wrong about The Tab being right wing and having a political stance. Certainly some of the articles reflect the authors’ opinions (which may lean left or right) but there is no united consensus from the editors to take any particular angle upon issues. Elections coverage was impartial; I hope that support and ridicule was distributed equally amongst the candidates, although personally I will always remain a fan of Derek…

    Bottom line is if we think something is interesting then we will publish it. I see the site as a platform for any student to project their views from without having to go through the WS, which for all its merits is always going to be a more drawn out process (and as seen here may not even be able to give the go-ahead).

    Snorky MacDolphin
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    Considering the stated mission of the Tab is “To have a wicked time providing light hearted, fairly right wing news to Southampton students” (at least on their FB page) I think David can be forgiven for saying the Tab has a right-wing leaning (although individual writers do vary).

    And David, it won’t just be a match between slander and a free-sheet, there’s also The Dolphin’s Blowhole doing grassroots alternative media too. May not be such attention-seeking headlines and content, but we like to think we do a good job in competition too.

  15. avatar

    I don’t expect this comment to be very popular, but it’s an argument I haven’t seen written in the comments yet.

    My opinion on censorship and independence of the Wessex Scene aside, this article is a perfect argument for why the Scene SHOULDN’T be independent.

    There have been complaints from the editorial team all year about unfair censorship; however, at no time has the team done anything about it.

    As Sasha mentioned earlier, there are disciplinary precedures that can be brought up when you think a Sabbatical or other officer of the Union haven’t fulfilled their role properly.

    However, at no Union Council this year have you (Dan and Jess) or another member of the Wessex Scene brought up this issue in an attempt to resolve it.

    Instead, it’s waited until the end of the year and turned into a massive rant against the Union, which has led to comments such as “SUSU is crippling itself and failing”… after a year when we’ve seen SUSU take massive steps forward in media output.

    I know it might be an isolated example, but last year, the Wessex Scene had more freedom in some cases, which just led to unconstructive rants against SUSU productions; events that had been created from the efforts of volunteers were ripped to shreds, because some writers realised that the writers that ‘take risks’ get noticed more.

    The Wessex Scene doesn’t need to be independent to get things printed; they just need to challenge the decisions of their VP Comms, whoever it is. If an article is best for students, then it will be best for SUSU.

    Jessica Fuhl
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    Hey David,

    I appreciate what you are saying, however I would first like to say that we’ve planned to do something about this for a while now; unfortunately I was unable to prepare something for the last two Union Councils in a row however, after just having too much work on. (I don’t know how you do it all David! Haha)

    I don’t, however, think that this is an example of why the Union shouldn’t allow us to print opinions though; if students are not allowed to publish an open letter on the student paper website, what hope is there for freedom of expression?

    I also hope you don’t mind me commenting in response to your point that we’ve been complaining about this year and done nothing about it. This feeling has built up steadily throughout the year and has culminated to a point that, in my mind, is unacceptable and ridiculous. We have challenged all these decisions as they were made, and attempted to work with the Union, until it has just got the point where it seems laughable to agree with certain points of theirs.

    If there is a suggestion of some sort of Union procedure that should be followed in relation to this by myself, or Dan, or the editorial team, then I would say that 1) Would you ever like to be the one to turn up at Union Council and put forward a vote of no confidence or something similar to a fellow peer? Is this what you’re suggesting? Because I don’t feel comfortable with that. 2) I just don’t have the time for Union politics and bureaucracy that comes with things like this. I am aware that this is not a sufficient response, buuut look how long the Nestle thing went on for (and still is I believe, after the AGM’s decision is yet to be ratified, almost 4 months after the motion was proposed to be put to Union Council.)

    Furthermore, after being originally invited to Media Committee, and then uninvited by a Union figure informing me that actually I could not go and please can I not, I’m not sure I even want to associate myself with the extra hassle that comes with Union politics etc.

    I acknowledge that yes, there is the unfortunate opportunity where student writers may be ignorant and write something inappropriate, but as students we have room to make mistakes and learn from them etc. When it comes down to it, my simple issue is, are they not taking it a little but far, and is this not a bit silly, even humorous?

    I am merely hoping that publishing this open letter will make students a bit more aware of the situation, and act as an catalyst for such ridiculous ‘censorship’ to subside next year…

    Sorry for the long comment, I respect your opinion; I just don’t have the same thoughts on the matter.

    Sasha Watson
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    To be pendantic – can we move away from saying things like “tried to work with the Union on this” – its one person who makes the call, not the Union. I know to you that is much of a muchness, but to someone who doesn’t know what SUSU does, having them see this SUSU monster banning everything will just create the wrong picture.

    Its not SUSU, its someone who was elected as a representative to do the job of be Editor-in-Chief

    Sasha Watson
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    Also – anyone who tells you you cant go to a Standing Committee like Media Committee is simply wrong, and just walk into the room. Thats awful that that happened

    David Gilani
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    Thanks for the response, Jess… I think that was something I was trying to write, that couldn’t quite get into the right wording…

    I just was trying to say that it’s not that the Union doesn’t want you to print opinions or sex and drugs issues… it’s the Editor-in-Chief of the Wessex Scene. I haven’t been on the Wessex Scene editorial team, so I’m not sure of the details, so please correct me if I’m wrong… but in all these cases hasn’t it been Charlotte who’s had to make the decision not to print those specific articles.

    You shouldn’t think that the whole Union is against the Wessex Scene and therefore you should seek independence… it’s just that the current VP Comms had different opinions from you on those individual issues, in the same way, as you said, we don’t have the same thoughts on this matter 🙂

    That’s why I

    David Gilani
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    whoops… entered that too early…

    But yeah.. that’s why I think the best way to solve this would be by having some sort of easier system for you to challenge the VP Comms on those individual issues… because I agree.. disciplinary procedures and Union Council are a bit much when it comes to the printing of a cartoon.

    Stranger
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    Why not….

    In politics if a someone makes a glaring error and works against the mandate they received from electorate on the manifesto platform they stood on they should be held to account.

    If the person responsible, VP Comms or ultimately the President (the bucks stops with him) aren’t disciplined then what is the incentive for future administrations to change there own behaviour.

    If there are no sanctions at Union Council then Union Council has no power and becomes an irrelevance. We should call for a motion of censure if not at least to signal that the Executive cannot ride rough shod over the wishes of the student body.

    After all they work for us, the students, not their own sense of warped social responsibility.

    Standing Order 11

    http://www.susu.org/downloads/Constitution.pdf

    Censure lets go for it!

    Shane Murphy
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    Quick response on couple of things:

    Firstly i want to establish to all those who are going on about how “The Union” is holding back the media etc… I would like to point out that these decisions, correct or incorrect have been made by the VP Comms not the union as a whole. And that the VP Comms was elected by the students to be the editor in chief of the WS.

    Davids Stuff: I agree that this is an issue and that at no UC was this brought up, but i cant blame them looking at the current process of UC. Hopefully next year it will work a lot better and everyone will be more accountable!

    Jess:
    If you felt the dialouge wasnt working why didnt you goto billy in an informal way? or did you? You were asked to not come to media committee? As far as im aware all union committees are open to the public (except maybe elections and union management board, but im not sure about them!)

    Just to clarify im not commenting on wether what was sensored should of been, just the processes involved, and to clarify the difference between the opinion of one person and the stance of the union.

    Jessica Fuhl
    avatar

    Sasha and David, yeah I agree where you’re coming from on this, again, I just don’t feel comfortable pointing fingers directly at certain people, I don’t think that’s very fair online. Of course I shouldn’t refer to every single part of, and person involved with, the Union, as I’d be criticising myself and indeed all of you. However, I certainly don’t want to get into a personal vendetta.

    Shane, Dan, as Editor, went to Billy several times on issues (that I am aware) and did discuss such issues in an informal way, but original decisions still stood.

  16. avatar

    My thoughts:

    Dan as you will know, I agree with you completely on this issue, we all do. Just wanted to add my own experience to the list.
    Elections aside, we’ve basically been censored for three different reasons this year: the risk of offence to the student body, the risk of libel, and worrying about upsetting the powers that be in the union/university.
    As to the first, the attitude has been laughably paternalistic, and treats the student body as if they are either children or the kind of deranged maniacs who comment on the Daily Mail website and take offence at literally everything. Apparently it is only the Sab team who have this view of the student body, no one on the editorial or writers team agrees, and this causes a lot of conflict.
    Secondly libel worries. This is probably the only topic I’ve actually managed to properly understand during my law degree, and I can say that 9/10 SUSU just don’t understand the law, and err on the side of caution. The only libel risks this year, in my opinion, have been stories about So:Bar and the Focus Sports stuff (ironically both of which were published). Admittedly libel is confusing, and mistakes can be expensive, so I do get where they are coming from. But sometimes, it is just ridiculous. Like worrying about a country suing a students a union.
    Lastly, the powers that be. This is the one that really hacks me off. Articles are rarely censored completely (although they have been). More often, they are hacked to pieces, comments are added, pictures are changed, and the structure of the articles are altered. Most notably, this really diluted two really important articles we ran this year (on the 8-8 day proposals, and the plans to recruit another 5000 students despite overcrowding). There is no way SUSU should lean on us in this respect, it’s a complete reversal of their duty as our campaigning voice within the university.

    Glad you did this. I had my own letter drafted, but yours is better.

  17. avatar

    As to David: the most appropriate way of dealing with the issue is dialogue with the VP Comms, which Dan and Jess have definitely been engaging in all year. I don’t share your faith that this could have been solved by bringing it to council, and I don’t agree with the sweeping statements about the Scene’s output last year. Although that is a debate that most people got tired of about 18 months ago, so I don’t want to bring it up again.

    David Gilani
    avatar

    Pete, I can’t say much on the details because I don’t know the individual struggles that Dan, Jess and Charlotte have gone through this year… but I think bringing those kind of issues to council would have meant that this issue would have been addressed before the end of the year…

    I guess I just don’t like how in a lot of this article it’s made it seem like the whole of SUSU has been against the Wessex Scene… which is just not true.

    And with regards to the Scene’s output last year, it was one individual article I was referring to, not a whole year’s worth… but still… we’ll leave that if you want.

    Pete
    avatar

    Re: the whole of SUSU stuff, I think people feel it’s fairer to talk about the organisation rather than individuals.
    It might give the wrong impression to some, but most governing bodies have some principle of collective responsibility, where if one person acts out a certain policy, they are taken to be doing it on behalf of the whole body, or at least, the directors/cabinet stand and fall together. Certainly, while it obviously doesn’t come within the remit of all of SUSU, there hasn’t been any indication that they don’t agree with the policy. Whether they knew of it to the full extent or not is a different matter.

  18. avatar
    I'm not a shrimp, I'm a King Prawn

    The cartoon is more inaccurate than offensive. As a postgraduate I still need temporary friends, I still cut superior shapes on the dance floor and I still deny all actions the following day. No one reserves the right not to be offended, unless you’re Chuck Norris, that guy will end you.

  19. avatar
    Snorky MacDolphin

    Well done Dan and Jess for publishing this letter and for going public with your concerns. As a student newspaper providing experience for writers and decent output for readers it is in everybody’s interest to have a free and challenging news source on campus, even if it upsets some people in the process(whether members, businesses, the university or the union).

    Concerns have been filtering through from people involved to Blowhole HQ for some time now during this year, and it’s clear action is necessary to keep the Scene independent and producing good quality material across the board. Media should be open and free, not stifled and censored. Will next years Sabbs and Editorial team help the Scene regains its edge, or will us non-official sites have to take up the slack even more?

  20. avatar

    Good article, well said.
    I’m shocked that the cartoon was censored, I can’t imagine anyone that could take offence from that.
    We’re all adults here, I don’t understand why we need someone censoring a Student publication aimed at us.
    I thought that the cover image would, if anything, catch the eye and demand to be picked up.
    A student newspaper should be interesting and exciting, not look like another textbook.
    We need to take risks to move forward!

  21. avatar

    I find it very telling that this outburst against the Union, and the similar criticism of SUSU we had about a year ago, come at the end of the year. You know when people’s terms in positions are coming to an end and people are about to leave Southampton.

    Is a paper really being censored if its editor-in-chief is the one that decides to pull the article?

    Also the comparison to injunctions is weak at best. Injunctions are legal impositions granted and upheld by the state that are affecting privately produced press. No such separation exists between SUSU and the SUSU Media Department, especially considering that VP Comms holds the senior position in all those departments. Does this sound like fascist or totalitarian manipulation of the press? Of course it doesn’t, we’re talking about a Student Union here (albeit one I bloody love) not a Government in charge of an independent state.

    Nor is this a question of freedom of speech. If SUSU was saying you weren’t allowed to say any of these things anywhere then yes it would be, but they’re not they were stopping you publishing an article in a publication they own and are in charge of.

    Henry C Taylor
    avatar

    Some good points, especially about the injunction comparison, but I completely disagree with you on others.

    This is most definitely a freedom of speech issue. Freedom of speech is equally about the right of other people to listen (or in this case, read) as it is of people to speak. Myself and (I would hazard a guess at) the majority of other students have demonstrated that the content that has been censored is content that we would not have a problem with, and as such the suppression of this material from one person acting on our behalf who clearly doesn’t share the same idea of taste as the majority, has irked quite a few people.

    A paper can absolutely be censored by its editor-in-chief. Censorship refers to the witholding of communications to a wider audience that may be deemed offensive or objectionable in some way. When this material is in fact deemed by the majority to be wholly placid, then it is clear that censorship has occurred somewhere. Your argument that the editor-in-chief cannot censor, presumes that their moral and logical judgements of what content is offensive are better than ours. Which is demonstrably not the case.

    As for criticism of individuals. Without question I think that individuals should be made responsible for their actions, especially ones elected into power by a body of people. I am sure that Sasha and the rest of the sabb-elect will rightly accept criticism where and when it’s due, and will hopefully react to it better than some of the sabbs have reacted to criticism this year. I do agree though that personal attacks, such as those already levelled at David Howell, and Charlotte Woods, are unfair.

    Either way most people are intelligent enough to realise David has some great points, and membership of a pretty badass wizards organisation simply means I’m much more interested in what he has to say than Woodsy or J-Dog.

  22. avatar

    I am coming from a completely non media related point of view at all. The AU is the department that I work most closely with.

    From reading the article and all of the comments, it looks like many people have similar feelings. Most people think that SUSU is to blame, some people think that it is just the VP Comms, and some people are agreeing on the fact that this has been bought up at the end of the year and so the wrong time.

    In my opinion, I think that the decisions made, have been severe and in some cases maybe over strict. But at the end of the day, it is up to the VP Comms, with the support from other Sabbs and staff, to make these decisions. This does not mean it will always be the correct decision but it is a decision all the same. To quote the constitution, “It is occasionally going to be the case that officers make decisions or take actions which are not acceptable to others.” I think this is the case here.

    Next year, we could see a VP Comms that is not so strict and that certain images and articles gets published but that is down to the VP Comms accepting liability for what is published because once somebody has a problem with an article or image, it falls directly on the VP Comms head and liability law is very strict and can be very damaging to an individual. I really don’t think that SUSU or the VP Comms can be blamed for this.

    In regards to the timing issue of this article, I am in agreement with everybody who has mentioned that it should have been dealt with earlier in the year. If it was bought to Billy informally then afterwards, the constitution should have been followed in terms of filing a complaint.

    On a very final note, I really do think that this issue should have come to Union Council. It is there that a decision should have been made. But maybe there is a reason why it hasn’t?? The fact that Dan Webb has not been to a Union Council since the 31/1/2011 is a major issue in itself!! Apologies have been sent to the Union Council on Dan Webbs behalf for the 21/2/2011, 14/3/2011 and the 9/5/2011. I can only hope that he was present at the AGM, but even still the issue was not raised there either. It seems like people are blaming the wrong person and maybe it should someone else that should be recalled?? Maybe somebody better suited to work closely with the VP Comms and to build bridges and not walls??

    Daniel Webb
    avatar

    James I appreciate your concern, and it is true that I haven’t been to UC in sometime. I have always put my degree first and unfortunately the timings of the last few Union Councils have clashed with essay deadlines and my dissertation deadline. I guess that is only my fault. I’d also like to clarify that at no point have we mentioned anyone being recalled.

    Despite that, I couldn’t agree more with those who have criticised the timing of this article. Yet, for a number of reasons including my workload this was the most opportune moment. Whilst, I do not feel the need to respond to the criticism on a personal level, I do feel explaining the situation over the last year may answer some of the questions people have raised on these comments.

    Throughout this year, we have had serious problems with articles being removed by the VP Comms who is editor-in-chief of the Wessex Scene. Indeed the cartoon that was removed was done so from our first or second edition. I questioned the decision and was overruled and after a conversation with the Editor-In-Chief we both decided to work at balancing the editorial relationship, especially as I had just had the final decision on whether to establish a disaffiliated Wessex Scene online merely weeks before and I believed it could work.

    As the year passed it started to become clear that it was in no way, a two-way relationship and the decisions made were not open for discussion or evaluation – it was final. We were planning to bring a motion to council around two councils ago but unfortunately were unable to do so in the allotted time.

    I did however write a concerned letter to the Editor-in-Chief explaining my position on the issues in front of us around 1 month ago. The response I received included members of Senior Management, Union Staff and the Union President; it point by point rubbished everything I had said in a dismissive nature that felt more like a telling off than anything cooperative.

    Following that I asked the Editor-in-Chief how to challenge a decision she had made – I was told to recall her at Union Council and that there was no other way. Maybe if I had been to UC I’d of known of the options Sasha has offered. Naturally, I did not want to recall anyone, as it is not an issue for me with the editor-in-chief on a personal level, and as a whole I think she does a brilliant job.

    And now we are where we are today…

    I’d finally like to say that the criticism at the centre of this open letter is not aimed at any individual. It is aimed at a system that allows an ill-informed individual to make decisions on advice only from other employees of the Union. At no point does the Editor-in-Chief consult students when something is not approved for publication. It seems logical to me that as an institution that is “run by students for students” that students should have some consultation in the process – media committee for example is the perfect platform. The fact that this year’s Editor-in-Chief is, in my opinion, ill-informed is also a problem with the institution itself and not the individual. It is the Union’s duty to ensure its employees, and indeed its volunteers are educated and trained in areas essential to their roles – as I see it, no one in the Union, including myself, knows very much about media law, and that is after conversations I have had with experts in the field.

    For this reason, we are bringing a motion to Union Council, which is currently in the process of being planned that I hope will bring decentralisation to the decisions made by the Editor-in-Chief over the removal of articles, at a minimum consultation with students. As I see it, only on one or two occasions have we actually been censored in the full meaning of the word – articles, images and cartoons have been removed on a matter of taste more regularly. The motion will also place an emphasis on increased training for the VP Comms and those I hope to be involved in the consultation process.

    James O'Mahony
    avatar

    Thanks Dan.

    I must say, that was a great response and I think it sets out the problems more clearly. I look forward to seeing the motion being put forward at Union Council and really look forward to being more informed over the issues, from both sides, throughout the debating process at UC on the 13th of June. I hope that people who are interested in this article will also come along to Union Council to hear the motion and the debate.

    Jamie Chadd
    avatar

    I second this was a great reply and response, and I can see a well-attended Media Committee on the horizon.

  23. avatar

    Perfect, well thought out and argued. It is completely ridiculous to me that as a university news paper we are not allowed to publish the front cover design because “some” kids might see it (seriously, there is NOTHING wrong with that picture).

    Since we still have the right of free speech and an independent press (well this is obviously changing) the union can’t tell us what to publish and what not to publish. This is NOT supposed to be a profit making business and the press is not here to please the crowds or SUSU for that matter.

    This inspired me to write a new article so keep it going!

    Fouad.

  24. avatar

    This isn’t a freedom of speech issue, all journalists are constrained by what their editors/owners want published. It’s the reason you won’t ever see the Daily Mail suggest that immigration isn’t all that bad or the Guardian accepting that most terrorists are Muslims.

    What appears to be the actual issue is that SUSU are hopelessly out of tocuh with the sensibilites of the student body. The cartoon and propsoed cover aren’t offensive to anyone and I doubt the vast majority of the students would think otherwise. As it is SUSU appears to have merely hamstrung their own publication.

    Henry C Taylor
    avatar

    Dhanesh, I don’t understand how you think it’s not a FoS issue. Granted, it’s not on the same level as denying Moazzam Begg a platform (just using him as an example, let’s not drag that up again) but it’s still most definitely a freedom of speech issue – freedom of speech being the right to express an opinion without censorship, and the right of the masses to hear or see (potentially extreme) opinions.

    The authors of this article had articles, photographs, and images that they wanted published censored, which were definitely not risqué enough to warrant being so (the children running around the union excuse is weak). Not only that, but plenty of students have commented that they don’t find the content offensive. It’s not as if Charlotte Woods censored a public endorsement of Mein Kampf for our own safety. Rather, the WS have had what seems appears to be harmless material censored for no good reason, and against the opinions of the student populace.

    Of course journalists are censored to some extent, but they choose to work at a publication that they clearly understand may be promoting a particular political agenda. There was no suggestion that SUSU would use the WS to promote such an agenda, which appears to have happened. When the editor is voted in on a manifesto point, and then does the opposite once in power, people are going to be angry.

    Pretty sure something like that last point happened fairly recently…something about Nick Clegg?

    Dhanesh Patel
    avatar

    “What appears to be the actual issue is that SUSU are hopelessly out of tocuh with the sensibilites of the student body. The cartoon and propsoed cover aren’t offensive to anyone and I doubt the vast majority of the students would think otherwise. As it is SUSU appears to have merely hamstrung their own publication.” – Dhanesh Patel

    Jonathan Bates
    avatar

    A good article that highlights some issues with transparency and accountability of our student union. However, I feel that a point that hasn’t been highlighted yet is such outlets should be about promoting student talent. By declining to publish certain stories or cartoons, we are missing the point of why students even bother contributing to such outlets in the first place: to develop themselves as individuals and promote their own talent to help us find a job after our degree.

  25. avatar

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  26. avatar
    Dimitrios Xanthopoulos

    i believe the best way to resolve this would be to raise a motion in the next Union Council (to be held on 13 June I think) (with as broad support as possible) for Wessex Scene to become fully independent from SUSU control for its publishing decisions. Of course some generic aims, limitations and guidelines should be imposed, but those should just be amended by the Union Council.

  27. avatar
    James Robertson

    It is true that editorial and union decisions can have a impact on what goes in the paper.

    If I were you, I would think about starting off an alternative ‘fanzine’ or newspaper, that does not have to be principally attached to the SU. The SU has to be a free spirit and at this time of age, getting the views of the students is the most important thing.

    Go ahead and start an alternative website, blog or newspaper and take on the SU politics yourself! #DIY

    Henry C Taylor
    avatar

    You mean like perhaps some sort of Southampton tabloid of sorts?

    Interesting…..

    Cambridge
    avatar

    A recent tale from Cambridge…

    http://www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/?p=7474

    http://www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/?p=7598

    http://www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/?p=7805

    http://www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/?p=7443

    http://www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/?p=9317

    http://www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/?p=10382

    John
    avatar

    Around 20 years ago I was involved in a student paper at my University. The general rule was that anything could be published unless it was libellous. Article which might be seen as racist, sexist etc. could also be binned, but as this was a matter of opinion it was to be decided by the editorial board.

    The editorial board was seperate from the executive of the student union. The newspaper editor was elected by students, but was only one vote on the editorial board.

    Many articles were published that people did not like, and some we quite offensive, but upholding free speech was seen as more important than not offending people.

    Different student papers take different views on this, but it seems that SUSU is adopting an extremely conservative approach.

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