Shane Croucher is a journalism student at the University of Lincoln and assistant deputy editor of student newspaper, The Linc.
Student politics may seem like a trivial thing, but when you take into consideration that students’ unions receive funding from their universities, which are funded by the public, it becomes very important to hold these institutions to account.
So, serious concerns were raised when a motion submitted for the University of Lincoln Students’ Union’s ‘All Student Meeting’ sought to mandate the SU into limiting the time they spent talking to The Linc, the university’s student newspaper for which I write.
The other print outlets on campus at the University of Lincoln are Bullet Magazine and The Agenda, both of which are owned by the SU.
Subsequently, they are geared towards uncritical support for the SU. The Linc is funded by the Lincoln School of Journalism, and so enjoys a high level of editorial independence. The motion claimed that The Linc’s reports on the SU are ‘inflammatory and mislead students’.
They aren’t. Quantifiable statistics show that 10 per cent of all our current coverage of the SU, which includes opinion pieces, is critical. Of our SU news coverage specifically, 2.5 per cent is editorially critical. A 30 minute cap on the amount of time the SU spent dealing with The Linc, and to allow the SU to prioritise what they think is important enough to warrant a response, were the remedies to this ‘problem’.
Effectively, it would have allowed them to cherry-pick issues to respond to, meaning they could have ignored requests on accounts etc. It’s important to note that students’ unions are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act (2000).
Although the motion was submitted by an individual student, we know that the Students’ Union doesn’t believe itself to be accountable to the media. After all, Chris Charnley, president of Lincoln’s SU, said: “The union is in no form accountable to members of the press, as students yes, but as members of the press you hold no right to hold the union to account, only our members through student council can do so.”
As my colleague Rob Wells has pointed out: “This is like the leader of the City of Lincoln Council saying that the Lincolnshire Echo has no right to hold them to account, and that only taxpayers can do so and through the council’s meetings.”
Thankfully, after a rally for support, many students turned out to vote the motion down. Those who couldn’t attend voted in absence by filling out a form. Accountability survived, this time at least. I would urge all student journalists to keep a close eye on the activities of their SUs. They may present themselves as transparent, but this is no excuse for apathy on our behalf. Monitor their activities, scrutinise their accounts, attend councils and meetings – ensure that, above all else, accountability remains strong at your university.