A petition protesting limits on the freedom of Student Union outlets has gained over 160 signatures since its launch on Saturday.
The petition complains that the Union’s Media Charter places “unfair, immoral and potentially illegal limits on the reporting capabilities of its Student Media” through its “Major Incident” regulation. The petition was started by Jamie Woods, Insanity Radio’s Head of Computing, although she stresses she is acting in her capacity as an ordinary Union member.
A motion is to be submitted at the next general meeting, proposed by Jamie Woods and seconded by Thomas Gibbens. If the petition achieves over 200 signatures there will be a referendum on the issue.
Conspicuous in the Charter, also known as Byelaw H, is the section on “Major Incident Regulation.” This regulation limits the capacity of Student Union media to report on a “major incident” on campus.
If an incident on campus is designated as “major”, “All media outlets will immediately cease publishing any content related to the incident until further notice is given.”
Additionally, “No communication regarding the incident will resume until the Heads of Media Outlets (and VP Societies & Media) have received a briefing directly from College communications or another designated representative on the issue.”
The Charter was approved by the Board of Trustees in June 2017, at the end of the academic year 2016-17.
In December 2016, Student Union outlets Insanity Radio and Orbital Magazine reported live during the Founder’s fire. The national press coverage of the incident (which often employed the reportage of Union outlets) is regarded as the justification for the college to take a more active role in mediating their activities.
During the incident, a 21-year-old student was arrested after an arson attempt on the Grade I listed Founder’s Building. Smoke from multiple blazes were contained by Surrey Fire and Rescue, while Surrey Police, supported by police dogs and a helicopter, pursued the suspect through the university campus to Bedford Library.
The fire, police pursuit, and evacuation of students to temporary accomodation were reported by both Insanity and Orbital journalists on the scene, when information from the college was not forthcoming.
Under the provisions of the Charter, such immediate and autonomous reporting of a major incident by Insanity, the Orbital and rhubarbTV would not be possible.
Indeed, non-adherence by SU outlets could result in: forced resignations of senior members, a public apology from the outlet, the freezing of the outlet’s account, the expulsion of the outlet from Union premises, and the outlet’s de-ratification.
Acting as “students outraged at the SU’s disregard for freedom of press, not as media outlet members”, the petition states:
“Many students used these places as their source of news during the incident, as there was no official communication from the University.
“Preventing the outlets from reporting in emergency situations would have prevented people from finding out important information about the incident.”
One student journalist, preferring to remain anonymous, explained that: “Orbital and Insanity reported first on the police chase across campus whilst the College insisted it was an ‘electrical fault’.”
“The Byelaw H means if there was a major incident we would have to stop all communications and are threatened with deratification and resignations if we don’t comply.”
They said they hoped to remedy the restraints on the freedom of SU outlets, yet expressed concern that speaking up about the issue would be met with sanctions.
“[We] want to ensure the generations after us don’t work in the same conditions of fear as those before us and so this is a way we can give our new boards the freedom of press they are intrinsically deserving of.”
Daniel Brady, Co-Editor of The Founder, commented: “It’s alarming when students aren’t kept accurately informed. What’s even more alarming is when official bodies, put in place to look after, represent and inform students, isn’t transparent. The Union’s Media Charter needs to be addressed urgently.”
The Students Union has been approached for comment.
12.48pm. An earlier version of this article stated that Thomas Gibbens was Assistant Station Manager at Insanity Radio, however he no longer holds this role.