Glossary on student political terminology

More and more often, candidates for positions within student bodies, such as students’ unions, are asked for their views on freedom of speech, censorship, trigger warnings, safe spaces, Prevent and more. Often these questions are asked in the context of Junior Common Room Committee elections as well. Some students have remarked that they were not expecting to be asked for their views on these matters; despite this, more students are concerned about their representatives’ opinions on freedom of speech and related matters.

Since last year, York Liberty has distributed a short questionnaire to each candidate for the presidency of the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU). Following a discussion with the serving President, Millie Beach, we have elected to construct a glossary on political terms relevant to the candidates’ debates as well as student politics in general.

Below are our definitions of a number of important terms that we consider to be relevant to student politics and candidate elections at York. For each definition, York Liberty’s members have ensured that each explanation is neutral and non-partisan; some of these definitions include a balance of arguments for and against certain concepts, such as censorship or safe spaces.

You can access our glossary here.

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Survey for student media: results

York Liberty is keen to encourage accountability and freedom of expression on campus at the University of York. In response to individual testimonies on censorship by York’s students’ union, as we wrote about earlier, we composed a survey earlier this year to investigate student media and censorship. The survey was intended for students involved in the production of printed student media during the academic terms.

York Liberty’s survey was split into three sections, prefaced by an introductory section: a quick questionnaire on student journalists’ involvement in student media; a series of questions on their attitudes to censorship; questions on their opinions relating to the 2015 Media Charter; and to close, a handful of questions on their own personal experience of censorship, if any.

On the 18th of January, York Liberty approved the survey and released it to the Editors of the printed campus media: NouseYork VisionThe Lemon PressHARD Magazine and Circulation (according to the list of publications provided by the students’ union on its website).

We asked the Editors to share the survey among their editors, directors and other officers (social media officers, publicity officers etc.). Members of York Liberty also privately contacted individual students who are or have been involved in these magazines, asking them to complete the survey and to pass it on to other current or former officers.

Our survey ended on Friday 3rd of February and York Liberty met on the following Wednesday to digest the results, which we have written up and presented below.


Facts in brief

  • 14 student journalists (editors, directors or other officers within the ratified campus media) from the University of York took our survey
  • 64% of respondents believed that censorship exists within York’s student media
  • 57% of respondents have experienced censorship and, of those, 62% have experienced censorship more than once
  • 79% of respondents believed that student media should enjoy editorial independence from the student union
  • 72% of respondents disagreed with the claim that the 2015 Media Charter empowers York’s student media
  • 100% of respondents agreed with the claim that student media should be able to critically analyse the actions of elected student union officers (e.g. Sabbatical Officers, part-time officers)

York Liberty stated our understanding of critical analysis in the survey as the following:

student journalists would be able to examine the actions of [an individual] and be able to hold them accountable when a student’s actions affect the campus community or his or her role in a student society. We do not mean that student journalists should engage in ad hominem attacks and character assassinations!

York Liberty stated our understanding of censorship in the survey as the following:

the suppression of information or thoughts that would, in the eyes of an authority (in this case, the students’ union), be embarrassing, outrageous, insensitive, threatening to an individual’s welfare, revealing of information deemed to be sensitive or not appropriate for publication, or highly offensive.

 


Introductory section

Student journalists were asked if they were currently involved in student media. Half of our respondents were currently involved in student media at the University of York; the other half have at a time held positions within student media but are not currently involved.

Secondly, student journalists were asked of the student media in which they were, or are, involved.

  • 72% of respondents were from Nouse
  • 21% of respondents were from The Lemon Press
  • 7% of respondents were from York Vision
  • no editors or directors from HARD Magazine or Circulation Magazine responded to our survey or communication from York Liberty

Lastly, student journalists were asked for the position they held, or hold. York Liberty received survey responses from students involved in many aspects of reporting, from business and comment to gaming and culture.


Student media at York

Respondents were given several statements and asked the rate to which they agreed on a scale of five degrees. Respondents indicated whether they strongly disagreed, disagreed, were neutral, agreed or strongly agreed with statements concerning student media and the conduct of student journalists at York.

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The 2015 Media Charter

Respondents were given several statements and asked the rate to which they agreed on a scale of five degrees. Respondents indicated whether they strongly disagreed, disagreed, were neutral, agreed or strongly agreed with statements concerning the 2015 Media Charter and statements related to some of the rules stated within it.

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Respondents’ experience of censorship

Finally, respondents were asked about their own experience of censorship while working within student media at the University of York. If they had experienced censorship, York Liberty invited them to elaborate on their individual experiences.

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Respondents’ individual answers provided a range of interesting information:

  • one respondent claimed to have been threatened with a libel court case by the students’ union’s CEO
  • one respondent wrote that YUSU has blocked stories that report union staff members’ conflicts of interest
  • one respondent asserted that “stories that carried no legal risk but appeared to annoy YUSU elected officers” were censored by the students’ union
  • one respondent described a “blinkered and un-thought-through policy of fairness towards candidates” that forbade critical reporting in the union election period
  • one respondent claimed that the students’ union censored a report on an elected officer’s “gross xenophobia”
  • one respondent accused a former officer of revising policies and rules without informing those concerned, namely student media
  • one respondent wrote that news stories that were critical of elected officers and staff members were censored “even if the stories were true and provably so” and added that another York publication “frequently has articles censored because the Union fears they might be controversial”
  • one respondent described the censorship of their publication’s front cover a day before its due date to print
  • one respondent described their experience with YUSU as a “tug of war […] on a number of occasions”

York Liberty will post a separate article that states our analysis of the survey and our conclusions shortly.

Our survey on student media

The University of York has a proud reputation for brilliant student media. Many of the current publications have won several nationally-recognised awards.

Many of York Liberty’s original members were involved in student media at the University of York. Their passion for accountability, freedom of speech and honesty helped York Liberty establish its guiding principles as a group searching for accountability, good-natured debate, freedom of expression and transparency.

However, York Liberty has often heard, and continues to hear, stories of censorship within union-affiliated student media. York Liberty’s members have long wished to find out more, but often these stories take the form of individual accounts and rumours of the inner goings-on of student media rather than comprehensive accounts.

York Liberty has constructed a survey for editors, directors and other officers involved in printed student media. We hope to gather the opinions of current and former editors on censorship, the role of the students’ union and the most recent edition of the Media Charter, to which, at the time of its publication, several student journalists responded bitterly. This, we believe, will enable us, as well as all students, to have a more concrete idea of student journalists’ attitudes to censorship and free speech within student media at York.

The survey was devised and refined by York Liberty’s current membership. We consulted other students involved in polling and surveys for advice on constructing good surveys.

Over the past week and a half, York Liberty has emailed the Editors of NouseYork VisionThe Lemon PressHARD Magazine and Circulation, the print media listed currently by the students’ union on its website. York Liberty’s members have also contacted individual editors to pass the survey on.

To encourage responses, York Liberty will not ask for the identity of the respondent while filling out the survey. We will not seek to identify any respondents after the survey is finished and our data is published. We hope to write a report about our findings, which will be published on our website. The survey will take responses until the 3rd of February 2017.

The intention of the survey is to gather information from student journalists to inform York Liberty’s future projects and campaigns for free speech and transparency on campus and the end of unnecessary censorship within student publications at York. The data will remain available on our website.