Morgan Shandro/the Gauntlet

Freedom of the press under threat

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There is a common idiom that goes, “Without journalism, there can be no democracy.” Journalism spans from national giants, like the Globe and Mail, to, yes, student papers. 

Recently, the University Students’ Council of Western University informed the Western University Gazette that the paper would have to move out of the office they have had for 40 years to make space for the multi-faith centre. The decision was purportedly due to concern over lack of space for the multi-faith centre, however, the decision came before multi-faith leaders were even consulted. When multi-faith leaders were consulted, leaders consented that their current space was sufficient and expressed no desire to move. 

The USC claims that the decision to move the multi-faith centre into the Gazette office was due to a report about multi-faith space that was published in October. However, the survey shows that multi-faith students are generally happy with the space. Long-term goals included moving to a more quiet area — one that was not over a major programming space, which is where the Gazette is purportedly located. 

Based on this confounding information, it seems the reasoning for the USC to move the Gazette out of its office go beyond the needs of multi-faith students.

The Gazette and the USC haven’t always been on good terms. The Gazette, which is one of the only student papers to publish four times a week, is not fully independent and has a year-to-year lease with the USC. However, this has not been a problem until recently. Although events are clouded with a back-and-forth he-said, she-said, the USC suggested a representative sit in on Gazette editorial meetings. This would unquestionably cause a conflict of interest. 

Last April, the Gazette gave the USC a “B-” grade for their effectiveness. Newspaper issues containing this grade disappeared from stands around Western, which Gazette Editor-in-Chief Gloria Dickie, in a National Post article, hinted the USC may have been responsible for. 

One of the main responsibilities of journalists is to hold political leaders accountable. Just as national newspapers need to keep Harper’s government in check, student newspapers are responsible for exposing student government representatives when needed.

Clause 2.06 of the Gazette’s policy states the following:

“It is The Gazette’s responsibility to serve as a watchdog of the student government. USC involvement in day-to-day editorial decisions or policies would compromise objectivity, and the USC has therefore respected The Gazette’s journalistic imperative to remain responsible but independent of its publisher.”

So, like any paper, the Gazette has journalistic integrity to uphold.

The Gauntlet is independent of the University of Calgary Students’ Union, however, this has not always been the case. There have been occasions in the Gauntlet’s 53-year history that the SU has had the power — and used that power — to shut down the paper. The Gauntlet currently maintains a good relationship with the SU, which includes their respect for our right to choose content. Although the SU is a huge benefactor of the Gauntlet, they do not have the power to shut us down in light of criticism, because, like the Gazette, it is our job to keep the student government in check.

The Gazette, however, is not entirely autonomous from their student government, and therefore is vulnerable to abuses of power. In a letter that circulated Twitter, Stuart Thompson, a former Gazette editor-in-chief and current multimedia editor for the Globe and Mail, said, “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.”

In lieu of the Western USC’s rash decision to move the Gazette due to what we deem political reasons, the Gauntlet gives Western’s student government a grade of “D-” for integrity and looking out for students’ best interests.