The week of 30 September is a week that Acting Editor Daniel Green and his colleagues will likely want to forget. At the offices of The Badger, the student newspaper at the University of Sussex, the team were trying to put a paper together and keep students informed in the face of censorship from the student union.
The centre of the debate focused on a story about a student taking legal action against the university. The claims in question are unclear, but it was a story that made student union executives unhappy. As a result, Badger staff found themselves locked out of their publishing system, as well as unable to distribute the edition of the paper, the first of the term. In addition, their editor-in-chief, Paul Millar, was suspended.
The Fourth Estate
Sussex’s student union said there was procedure for the paper to be cleared to ensure its content does not present litigation concerns, and the union argued that this procedure had not been followed. A report from the Brighton Argus on the scenario outlined later that the union officials were not concerned with the content, just how it was reported. However, legal opinion sought by The Badger, independent of the union, said the content and how it was reported raised no red flags.
The Badger editorial staff were reportedly livid, and then as news developed, so did a Twitter campaign, utilising the hashtag #yourecullingus. Then, in spite of university opinion, they distributed it themselves at the campus’ Library Square, to anyone who would come to read it.
— The Badger (@TheBadgerNews) September 28, 2015
Update: We’ve been “advised” by @ussu that there will be “consequences” for those involved in distributing & possibly the paper as a whole.
— The Badger (@TheBadgerNews) September 29, 2015
— Gemma Knight (@gemknight88) September 29, 2015
Seems like some pretty disgraceful censorship going on at my old university paper: https://t.co/TjJhzRKupN
— Oliver Laughland (@oliverlaughland) September 28, 2015
— Sami (@_RedheadSaid) September 29, 2015
— Capes (@kirstycapes) September 29, 2015
When your SU silences a publication that is meant to be paired with them, you know you’re in a strange place.
— sarah george (@sarahevelyn161) September 28, 2015
Update: We can post to the site BUT it has to go through the union to get approval due to @USSU and their “insurance policy” on litigation.
— The Badger (@TheBadgerNews) October 1, 2015
All they wanted was to inform, to entertain and to educate. They believed in the ideas of the Fourth Estate and the ability to hold power to account. They believed in the real reason why we pursue work in this profession – not the fame or the money, but for the public service, the ability to make a difference for people, whether at Sussex, or elsewhere. They wanted, to paraphrase a friend of mine in the media industry, not to be the news, but tell the news.
They had the same ideas we had. They believe in the value that journalism has to a democracy and the comfort it provides to individuals concerned. They knew they were going to make this world better, one article at a time.
They just wanted to do what we all want to do – write, hone the craft, and practice journalism the way it should be practiced. The student union officers that oversee student media at Sussex however didn’t see it that way, and denied Badger staff that opportunity by their actions.
More than just outlets
The union also managed to do something more – bereave the university community at large the opportunity to see the work of some of their best and brightest students, as well as the ubiquitous value of knowledge that comes solely from the written word.
Students must tell their unions why student media is important, and why the ability to practice journalism free from fear of censorship or intimidation, and student unions must recognise the value student media has – for it has the power to not only chronicle the university experience for students, it can make it better.
I believe in and support wholeheartedly what Daniel Green and his colleagues at The Badger do, as well as many others up and down the UK. I hope Abraham Baldry and his colleagues that oversee student media at the union do too.
After all, a price tag or barricade can’t be placed around what we believe to be the core goal of journalists and universities everywhere—the ability to educate.
What do you think of what happened at The Badger? What role does student media have for students? Have your say in the comments section below.