Two Canadian student newspapers are fighting back after threats of censorship this month. At one, a student government group wants to kick the newspaper out of its offices, and at another, campus administrators seek a ruling that would allow them to ignore the students’ current and future requests for public records.
The editor of The Gazette, the University of Western Ontario’s independent student newspaper, learned a few weeks ago that the newspaper’s editorial office would be turned into a prayer room. The proposal came after the University Students’ Council began an extensive review of The Gazette’s practices. According to the newspaper’s reports, it was after this review that the paper learned that its editorial office of 40 years would be converted into a new multi-faith room in response to what the committee referenced as concerns from those who use the current prayer room.
The proposed move would put Gazette staff members in a space that is more than 700 square feet smaller than the current office. Representatives of the organizations that use the current multi-faith room said that they had little to no problem with the present space and that they didn’t see it necessary to occupy The Gazette office.
Editor Gloria Dickie wrote in a column that she is skeptical of the student government group’s intentions because of tension between student government officials and the paper, after The Gazette issued a B-minus grade for that year’s executive administration in a report card. “Clearly, this gives way to rising concerns the executive board is compensating for their lack of editorial control by exercising their managerial control and reducing our physical presence on campus—as well as cutting amenities for students wishing to gain valuable journalistic experience on campus,” Dickie wrote.
Since The Gazette went public with the news last week, current and former students and staff alike have voiced their support of the 106-year-old newspaper and its editorial office in blog posts, tweets and letters to the editor.
Former Gazette editor-in-chief Stuart Thompson, wrote in an open letter that it’s the motives behind the proposed move that are most troubling:
The publisher-newspaper relationship is a tenuous one, to be sure. As such, it’s always prudent on the publisher to be as open, transparent and accountable as possible so political influences and personal vendettas are not allowed to interfere with the newspaper’s autonomy and freedom. The decision to move from one office to another is not a direct threat on press freedoms. But when the decision is made without due consultation and fair review of the consequences, the motivations become suspect.
Many online have been downright outraged and feel that the university was trying to put The Gazette in a corner:
Elsewhere in Canada, administrators are trying to make it more difficult for student journalists to access to public records at McGill University. Last Monday, The McGill Daily reported that the school’s administrators had filed a motion with the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec that would deny 14 McGill students (tw0 of whom are on the Daily’s staff) Access to Information requests. The Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec is the group that oversees compliance with Quebec’s public records law.
In addition, the University wishes to be able to deny records requests from student journalists, students, McGill Daily reporters and several other student entities if the requests are “frivolous,” “trivial” or otherwise appear to be part of a campaign of harassment. In the school’s motion, they say it is clear the requests are “essentially as a retaliation measure against McGill in the aftermath of the 2011-2012 student protests.” The school also says the students’ requests are often overly broad and that they do not have the resources to process the requests.
The motion could not come at a worse time, the Daily’s editorial board wrote, as several investigations of corruption with the university’s health facility are underway:
At a time when McGill is embroiled in several ongoing corruption scandals surrounding the McGill University Health Centre, and as more and more allegations of corruption at the municipal level in Montreal come to light, the public’s right to know is of paramount importance.
Already there have been posts on Twitter in support of the MD’s stance:
Really, @McGillU ? You want to prevent @mcgilldaily from filing access requests? http://t.co/LxTJFRuG #journalism
— Peggy Curran (@peggylcurran) January 22, 2013
Oh come ON RT @davidakin: McGill would bar McGill Daily from filing ATI requests to the university. http://t.co/ySXevm37
— Paul Wells (@InklessPW) January 22, 2013