The recent referendum held at McGill University, which regarded the continuation of a mandatory levy supporting student newspapers, returned a 65 per cent vote in favour of retaining the levy. This result represents a win for free press, specifically for the Daily Publications Society (DPS), the student-run organization that publishes student newspapers The McGill Daily and Le Délit.
The end of this funding would have spelled disaster for both The McGill Daily and Le Délit, founded in 1911 and 1977 respectively. Moreover, the lack of support from the Legislative Council of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), based on disagreement with certain political content in The McGill Daily and a desire to avoid conflict of interest, highlights how undervalued free and diverse campus press is.
Those in favour of discontinuing the levy cited their disagreement with political ideals expressed in and by The McGill Daily, arguing that they should not have to pay to support a paper they do not agree with. The McGill Daily decided in January to close its comment section on all non-editorial pieces, which has opened it to criticism by its protestors to argue that the publication is suppressing debate. However, stripping the publication of funding is not the appropriate way to address issues of journalistic ethics.
Throughout this debate, the francophone students whom The Délit serves were lost in the fray as it became more politicized. In light of the university’s strong francophone community, potentially losing the only French language paper at McGill should have been met with greater worry from the school’s student union, which is mandated to serve all students.
Despite inherent flaws with the nature of representation in student press, abolishing funding for student papers does not promote free speech or active dialogue. The argument for shuttering the publications due to differing political views is ludicrous — invalidating something simply because one doesn’t agree with it negates the principle of free speech entirely. These newspapers carry influence on campus. The way to create meaningful dialogue and maintain accountability isn’t to silence them, but to reflect on what they have to say and push them to make changes if needed.
Anastasia Pitcher is a first-year student at New College studying Life Sciences.