Claiming that “student media have been abusing their positions as disseminators and aggregators of information,” the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Board of Directors voted unanimously on December 12 on a first step to passing a motion to control student media accreditation and access to meetings.
The item was moved by Director of Political Science Raymond Dang and was carried from a previous meeting held on November 27. At the December meeting, the board voted to refer the item to its governance committee for further amendments.
Dang wrote in his motion that student media have been “misrepresenting the reality of the situation,” and that “recent days have shown the entire campus can be misled on important topics relating to their lives.”
During the discussion, Dang said that “it was very disappointing to see a lot of the reporting not just by existing student organizations but start-up student organizations this semester reporting falsely on what the Board of Directors have done.”
However, since Dang would not “repeat any sort of false information or misleading information that was said or not said elsewhere,” it is unclear what coverage Dang was referring to.
The Varsity most recently covered the SCSU’s November Board of Directors meeting, in which Dang moved a controversial motion to give $4,500 to the UTSC Women’s and Trans Centre, despite students voting against giving the funding at SCSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).
Dang wrote in his motion that “students rely on their fellow student journalists to accurately report the truth and hold power to account,” and called for student publications to submit requests to be recognized so that they can cover the SCSU.
The union’s bylaws already recognize student publications as “The Varsity, The Underground, Fusion Radio or any other student media either print or online.” Bylaw changes must be ratified at a meeting of members, such as the AGM.
Under Dang’s proposed policy, an ad hoc committee that would consist of the vice-president operations, vice-president external, and three directors to be chosen by the Board of Directors would make decisions on media access.
The SCSU would also adopt the Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics standards as “guiding principles.” The guidelines touch on subjects such as independence, transparency, and accountability.
Since the motion was originally moved at the November meeting, the dates proposed in the text have already passed. As such, it is unclear when the committee will meet and by what date student publications will be required to submit applications, although Dang motioned for the governance committee to discuss the item at its first possible meeting.
According to the motion as it stands, changes will come into effect on January 1 if immediate action is taken, and will be enforced throughout the remainder of the academic year. All student media must apparently apply or reapply for accreditation for the union to either reaffirm or deny access.
During the board meeting, The Varsity was asked not to live tweet or photograph the events over concerns of online harassment of board members.
The chair of the meeting, Hildah Otieno, emphasized that this ban was not about media protocol but about protecting board members from intimidation.
The Varsity tweeted once thereafter to post the text of the media accreditation policy motion. Upon discovery of the live tweet from the meeting, Otieno asked the reporter to remove the tweet, which The Varsity did not.
This is @ilyaoverseas here. One of the motions at the #SCSU board meeting today is on "media accreditation," moved by Political Science Director Raymond Dang. The motion passed unanimously, according to @TheVarsity reporter @annmarieelpa pic.twitter.com/aAEGadpwfj
— Varsity News (@VarsityNewsUofT) December 12, 2018
The SCSU currently has a Media Communications Policy, which outlines the media’s access to public meetings and spaces provided by the union. However, there is no policy regarding live tweeting under their bylaws and governing documents.
This incident comes shortly after two Varsity reporters were also barred from taking photos and live tweeting at a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union meeting held on December 3. The reporters were subsequently asked to leave the meeting after continuing to live tweet at the direction of their editors.
The Varsity has reached out to the SCSU for comment.