The fact genuine conversations I have had this year have been reflected back to me in the form of a South Park episode is ridiculous.
When PC Principal tells Jimmy, editor of the school paper, that he can’t hand out the paper unless it is approved by him, Jimmy’s firm response is “No.” He then proceeds to deliver the school paper to people’s houses, informing the world about the principal’s “retarded” policy.
At Togatus, we firmly say “No” to the ridiculous regulations the TUU are continually trying to force on us.
I have spent my year-long term as the editor in chief of Togatus arguing behind closed doors with the Tasmania University Union (TUU) about where the editorial control of the magazine should lie. Togatus has always prided itself on being independent student media, however the editorial independence of the University of Tasmania student magazine is under threat.
In 1982 the then editors of Togatus wrote a tell all article detailing how the student union had forced their will onto the editorial content without permission from the editors twice that year. The reason on this second occasion? Letters to the editor from The Mercury around making membership of the student union voluntary splashed across the front page. The union feared it could possibly bring the new government of the time to act towards voluntary student union membership. The editors wrote in the next edition “No-one has the right to walk into the offices of the student paper and inflict his/her opinion over that of another person. No-one has the right to walk over the Editor’s right as they did … In future, Togatus will be taking stricter measures to ensure that its printing schedule and its rights are not violated.”
Fast track to 2015 and the TUU board of management is trying to enact strict new regulations. Dubbed the “Tasmania University Union Student Media “Togatus” Regulations”, these guidelines strip student editors of control over the content of the magazine and hand valuable editorial space, which should be reserved for original student content, straight to student politicians.
The policy I have been fighting all year hands the final publishing decisions of the magazine to a vague committee, which appears to be made mostly of TUU stakeholders. This is all in the name of stopping the union from being sued.
To date, Togatus has been published almost continually since 1931 without threat of legal action, however there are both historical and contemporary examples of the TUU attempting to silence student voices by censoring Togatus. Which is a more likely scenario?
The TUU has proved impossible to negotiate with over these regulations. Senior Togatus editors came together to draft regulations based off some of the most successful student publications in Australia. These regulations addressed the concerns of the TUU board of management and our own concerns about editorial independence. They would not discuss them as an option with us.
The University of Melbourne Student publication Farrago’s editor, Martin Ditmann told Togatus “Media independence is really important, particularly when it comes to student media.”
“Reporters and editors need to be able to do their work without having roadblocks stand in the way.”
“It can be difficult to balance, but media independence and having no political or commercial masters is critical.”
Laura Telford, editor of Empire Times from Flinders University said “University is the breeding ground for the next generation of leaders and if free expression is being silenced, particularly by those with a political bias, what hope is there for the future.”
“Student publications around Australia are being threatened by power hungry student politicians and it is up to editors and students themselves to stop their egotistical, megalomaniac ways becoming a reality.”
“Moreover, despite their intentions perhaps being in the right place, the catastrophic fallout from regulations taking control away from editors would be long lasting.”
Ms Hart has been appointed to draft the regulations surrounding Togatus, despite having a contentious history with the publication. In 2013 she blocked an article surrounding SSAF negotiations from being printed. At the time she cited factual inaccuracies as the reason for denying publication of the article. She denied blocking the article and insisted the final decision to publish remained with the editor. It was later revealed through a leaked email to student representatives that she had blocked the article from publication. The article later appeared on ssafwatch.com.
Jenny Hart has now has control to draft legislation that dictates how Togatus is to operate.
The TUU student State Council has been supportive of our independence this year. They have not blocked any motions and have not reprimanded us for printing content which holds the TUU to account. Many members of the TUU staff have supported us even when we have published content which has been questionable for the union. However, the TUU board of management and executive officer has been unwilling to negotiate.
Earlier in the year all Togatus editors were denied entry into a TUU Board of Management meeting where decisions directly relating to Togatus were to be made.
Unless there is drastic change within the TUU administration, Togatus will never be a truly independent publication.
You can’t just say you have independent student media. You have to follow through. Let student journalists control their own press.
Demand the Togatus you deserve.
I hope that this promise from the 1982 Togatus editors will still stand, today and into the future:
“Togatus will not be coerced – it is not a vehicle for the SRC propaganda but rather the student’s own newspaper.”
Editors note: We contacted the TUU Board of Management for a public statement for this article. We did not receive one prior to publication.