This week I was lucky enough to go to the National Union of Students and Amnesty International Student Media Summit. The event provided student media leaders from across the country with the opportunity to get advice from industry leaders in how to improve their skills and further their careers in media. A large theme surrounding the event was about how media can be used to drive change in our world through exposing injustice, being the voice of the silenced, changing perceptions and holding our leaders to account.
The roles I took during the last three years at Liverpool have given me a range of views on student media. As someone involved in all student media groups, I’ve seen the benefits student media can bring, firstly to its members.
Student media has the ability to develop careers and shape the future of its members; this has happened for many of the talented people I’ve worked with and for myself. However, as a student media junkie and someone involved with the Guild, I’ve seen how student media has engaged a whole lot of students who may have not previously known or cared about Guild politics or what our democratically elected leaders have been up to.
In the past year LSMedia has generated (often controversial) discussions around topics that our elected leaders have taken a stance on such as memorial day poppies, the no-platform policy, Israel and Palestine and many more. I believe that articles like these are essential parts of student media.
However, these articles have also created tension and even hostility between student media and the Guild. This is understandable. As a member of the Board of Trustees, it was one of my duties to uphold the reputation of the Guild. When LSMedia and LSRadio, both of which effectively are a part of the Guild, start highlighting negative aspects and criticising the Guild, it poses a huge risk to reputation, especially when a story gets picked up by the Liverpool local media. An initial logical response to this is to put strict controls on what is published, effectively censor the media and to cut ties with them. Thankfully this hasn’t happened at LGoS but there are plenty of unions who carry out this policy.
At the NUS/Amnesty media summit, I met many aspiring student journalists and editors-in-chief whose freedoms had been limited by their Union staff and/or elected sabbatical officers, on editor told me that the front page of their student paper had been pulled over four times in the last academic year. As a result many media outlets find it difficult to have a professional working relationship with their unions often suffering with outdated equipment, lack of funding and in one case a radio studio without a roof. Unions that carry this behaviour are morally corrupt. In his speech at the media summit, Liam Burns, President of the NUS, talked about the importance of student media in holding their elected leaders in the NUS and individual unions to account. He mentioned how they are a critical friend that ensure their leaders act fairly and with integrity. Unfortunately, it seems that this is not the case across all NUS affiliated unions.
So what can be done about this? As mentioned previously, Boards of Trustees can’t possibly allow media freedom due to the risk to reputation. As I see it, I think that the limitations on student media may actually be more of a risk to that reputation than allowing a critical media. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, the student movement prides itself on being an active campaigning force in all sorts of global injustices. Many of these injustices involve countries suppressing the rights of its people, including the freedom of press. It is inherently wrong and hypocritical for a union to on one hand fight against the censorship in places like Syria and China and in another breath remove stories from their own media groups because the view is not representative of the union’s leadership (despite every union representing a group of people with a huge variety of different views). Secondly, it is not in their members’ best interest to have information hidden from them. For these reasons alone something needs to be done about this.
The best course of action would be to get some form of written agreement either in the form of a charter, or actually get it written into union policy. I know of at least one student media group that had media freedom written into their unions’ constitution as well as some mutually agreed bye-laws about the necessary limitations. I believe action like this needs to be taken at Liverpool and all students’ unions across the country.
A written agreement removes all ambiguity over how media and unions react and may even reduce the tension and lead to fruitful professional relationships. I also believe that policies like these need to acted on with a sense of urgency. This is in part due to the expansion of The Tab, a student tabloid originating in Cambridge, which is entirely independent from any union or university. The Tab is launching in university cities across the country including Liverpool, which should create a more varied media scene. However, it also means it will be even harder for unions to block news and even more obvious when a story is being censored.
With regards to LGoS, it seems media will take a much more dominant role than before. President Sam Butler and deputy president, Tom Bee, both have strong links to student media and the Guild has hired Emmey Little, former head of LSFilmmakers, as their brand new performing arts and media coordinator.
I believe it has never been a better time to ensure LSMedia, LSRadio and LSFilm remain a key part of the Guild, and not just for freshers week and elections. I urge students to bring this to forum, new student councillors to send this to trustees and trustees to send this to policy. LGoS prides itself on being an important union nationally, now it is time for it to listen, lobby and lead on student media policy.
What’s your take on student media policy? Let us know in the comments.