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Unfree Press

Feb 17 2008 15:32
Ashley Brown
The staff student protocol and elections have left Felix feeling silenced - and unwilling to report on problems with staff, or factual content regarding current election candidates. Live! has its own view.
The cat does not feel free...

Those of you who've seen this week's Felix may well be feeling hard done by - what are these three stories they can't publish? And why can't they publish them? For those who haven't seen it: Felix has felt unable to run three stories this week as a result of the Staff Student Protocol (SSP) and elections regulations, so they've run the front page shown above along with an explanation on page 3.

The Felix Editor has been placed in an unacceptable position, a result of scaremongering by the ICU President and the returning officer of the sabbatical elections being over-cautious.

Story #1

The first story, one which could fall foul of the SSP, was concerning £1,800 which went missing from the Union safe. Our version of the story was very carefully worded to avoid assigning blame to any individual, letting you figure it out for yourselves. What we hope you figured out was that a log book has been requested on numerous occasions, with the weak link in its implementation being on the staff side (who shall not - and can not - be singled out here). Had requests by elected students - who are supposed to run the organisation - been listened to and implemented by the department responsible, the problem could never have occured in the first place. Unfortunately this is symptomatic of an entrenched attitude that certain things are "operational issues" and hence none of the concern of the Sabbatical Officers, which is an attitude that needs changing.

What commenters also identified was that the money has appeared in the accounts of the Chinese society, despite the fact that the money has not apparently turned up - i.e. the missing money was covered up by sourcing money from elsewhere, without the approval of the Executive Committee. This is the subject of an investigation by the College audit team, so we won't point any fingers.

Story #2

The second story was of concern to the returning officer in the current elections, as it involved one of the Presidential candidates, Jon Matthews, who has returned the £2,000 he received as GSA chair. At the time of his resignation there had been concerns raised about the way this money was paid, with Mr Matthews requesting the claim, which was then signed off by the Deputy President (Finance & Services) Chris Larvin, then at the very start of his term (something Mr Larvin realised afterwards he should not have done). As the claim was apparently not signed off correctly, it was requested that money was returned and a proper audit trail for authorisation was provided. The audit trail took a very long time to appear, with accusations from the ICU President that this was due deliberate stalling, while Mr Matthews insisted he was busy over the summer and the previous DPGS kept lousy records. Following his resignation there were further calls for the money to be repaid, which he has now done. Any complaint about the article - either from other Presidential candidates or from Mr Matthews himself - could have risked Felix being impounded so as to preserve the integrity of the election.

Story #3

The third story was also likely to fall foul of the SSP. I'm not willing to discuss it either, until I have far more information to present a balanced and fair view. It covers serious and sensitive issues, so we have an ethical obligation to tread carefully. You'll have to wait for a bit longer to get this one!

Why have you published (two of) them?

I am fully confident that what has been published here does not break the SSP or election regulations. There is the distinct possibility of a complaint, in which case this will disappear. Don't worry, Live! will let you know what caused the problem.

The staff student protocol protects individual staff members from harrassment and hounding by the student media. Attacking a a failing area of ICU activity is perfectly legitimate. Exposing an area of ICU which is failing due to ignoring the requests of elected students is perfectly legitimate - we can't attack anyone else if the elected officers we would normally go after have been ignored.

The election regulations state that student media must be balanced - if we run a feature (manifestos, interviews, biographies, advertising) for one candidate, we must run one for all candidates. The reporting of factual information about people who happen to be in the election is perfectly fine, providing the coverage is balanced. Normally, the election would not be mentioned with the factual report (to avoid drawing attention to the association), but unfortunately the story is now inextricably linked to it.

Why didn't Felix publish them?

The ICU President and Returning Officer scared them too much. Felix feels that it was effectively banned from running stories involving staff, by an over-zealous interpretation of the SSP by the ICU President. I was not privy to this conversation, however it seems that the even the suggestion that staff in general might be to blame for something was ruled a breach of the SSP. I strongly disagree.

On the elections side, Felix were under the threat of being impounded should there be a complaint about the article referred to above.

Felix has chosen to make a principled stand for freedom of the press, rather than publishing and facing the consequences. The student body as a whole has the right to know that the student media cannot always publish everything it knows, a message which Felix has communicated loud and clear.

Felix has the backing of the whole student media - if we can't highlight controversial issues which directly affect the delivery of services to students, no matter who is to blame, then what's the point? You might as well rely on the ICU propaganda site and weekly emails for your news. Thankfully the more enlightened elements - including staff who are fantastically supportive of student activity - have allowed some of Live!'s anti-propaganda to return to the ICU site after an 18 month absence.

Keep the cat - and the rest of us - free!

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Discussion about “Unfree Press”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Feb 17 2008 15:49
 

I did NOT authorize the claim myself. Indeed, the only part I had in the claim was requesting that the honorarium be paid, I never saw the claim form and it does not bear my signature or handwriting anywhere. I know full well that one can play no part in the authorization of a claim to oneself being a former DPFS. The fact that I played no part in the authorization process was why I could not provide an audit trail.

Feb 17 2008 21:28
 

"I know full well that one can play no part in the authorization of a claim to oneself"

Does willingly providing your own bank account details counts as part of the process of "authorization of a claim" or should we just treat that as a part of "requesting that the honorarium be paid"?

Feb 17 2008 21:34
 

How exactly was the claim meant to be paid if Jon didn't willingly provide his own bank account details?

What was he meant to do 'You are trying to give me ?2000 honararium for being GSA Chair?!? I best not give you my account details. You never know, in six months time someone will be accusing me of foul play and fraud. Maybe you should pay me in paper clips instead."

Feb 17 2008 21:59
 

The ICU president doesn't have the power to stop Felix publishing. Why didn't the Felix Editor simply ignore him and publish these (rather tame) stories anyway?

If the ICU President is really unhappy with this then he surely he could complain to the Court / Media Arbitrator?

5. Heh   
Feb 17 2008 22:06
 

What do you mean the ICU president doesn't have the power to stop felix publishing? Okay technically the DPFS does, but in this years Sabb team, that amounts to the same thing.

The print run is signed off weekly and the central Union can access the server and can read all the articles before they are published.

felix is free until it writes something they don't want you to read.

Feb 18 2008 01:06
 

Where in the constitution is the clause that allows the President or DPFS to prevent Felix publishing because of Felix's content?

Feb 18 2008 01:21
 

When we all just chillax and realise the Constitution is like the Bible. Sure they both say stuff like you must not lie upon the same bed as your wife whilst she is menstruating and do not sit on a goat during the gaming season (that's just common sense really). Who really cares about the small-print when the overall meaning is really don't masturbate in church. Or something. Actually just reading the Constitution now, it says in Section 6, part B, point 33 that we are "entitled to break wind in the Sherfield Ante-Room as long as no member of staff holding the title of Professor or higher is around".

8. Heh   
Feb 18 2008 01:33
 

In the code of practice (the bit that JC decided council only needed to read once, so you'd be forgiven for not spotting it) college can ask the president to stop felix from printing and so I guess the president can ask college to tell him not to allow it to be printed.

Alternatively if the DPFS is unhappy he can refuse payment and the company won't print...

There is a lot to be said in changing the system to signing off claims a month in advance, not a month in arrears to remove this misplaced power and if any reason this does not happen it must be reported council that it has not been signed off with an appropriate reason.

Doing this is probably something that many people would like to label as bureaucratic, but when things go wrong it is clearer to see why we have policies like this.

Nobody likes to see stuff supressed.

Feb 18 2008 10:22
 

I do remember the Editor of this web site taking real issue with that part of the CoP that stated, effectively, that college can stop Union publication being printed.

Feb 18 2008 10:31
 

At about the same time I stated (it's in the minutes) that the changes to the CoP hadn't been circulated early enough for us to look at them and think about them properly. But I received practically naff all support from Council, who were apparently more concerned about protecting themselves and not having another meeting to discuss it.

Feb 18 2008 11:12
 

why would you want to impersonate hang on????

Feb 18 2008 15:42
 

We decided not to take the "publish and be damned" approach because it is ridiculous that Editor after Editor, year after year, Felix should keep coming up against the same problems over censorship by the constitution.

Felix is regularly faced with the question of whether it is allowed by the Union to publish its news stories that are in the public interest. This is what must change.

Feb 19 2008 01:30
 

Two points:

In the old days, the Union was considered the "publisher" of Felix as Felix has no legal status. In it's role as publisher, delegated to the President, comes the power to stop Felix being published. It is possible for ICU to reject an article, but the stance by any good Editor has always been "you print it my way or not at all". In the old days, that did mean that sometimes Felix as a whole was not distributed. Logistically it's not easily possible for College to stop publication but they can apply pressure to the President.

Live and Felix's online outlet are much more precarious: a word in the right direction pulls their network access as they are hosted within Imperial. The only way to avoid thay is pay for hosting elsewhere... what price, freedom?

Feb 19 2008 10:35
 

Back in the day Felix had it's own printing press so stopping it being printed was a much more difficult proposition. Indeed I think at that point the Editor was considered the publisher, but I'd have to check. In a sense the web outlets provide that same 'self-published' aspect these days but, as Old Fart says, the net feeds can always be pulled. External hosting, or at least mirroring, is the only solution to that.

It's a pity that the Union has caught the spin and media management disease from College. Free discussion and flow of information are the lifeblood of science. That the UK's premier science university and its student representatives feel that these same principles have no place in their own affairs is a sad state of affairs.

Maybe now is the time for the (long defunct) Felix Club to roar into action?

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