Independent student media elections: who’s for it & who’s against it?

Words by Tom Haskell

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Just how independent are your student media directors?

We asked a very simple question to all political factions and student media teams running in this year’s student elections.

Does your team support the idea of independent student media elections? Meaning that political factions putting candidates up for SRC/Board/NUS positions agree to not endorse student media candidates during or before student elections.

We received some very nuanced responses, but in a nutshell these are the binary answers we got:

For:

  • Activate
  • Swipe-Right
  • Weatherill, Dolan and Hawke-Nesbitt for Student Radio
  • Bemmer, Denney, Burnet for On Dit

Against

  • Frequency for Student Radio
  • Unite
  • Left Action
  • Diversify your On Dit (though they do support the “de-politicisation” of student media)

No Response

  • Progress
  • Fi, Nick, Prasanna & Liberty for On Dit

Okay, it’s a lot more nuanced than a yes or no response. Let’s break this down a little bit.

Why does this matter?

Within the last three years, a precedent has been set that tickets running for student media elections at Adelaide will need to sell their soul to various factions in order to secure an endorsement. These endorsements almost always come in the form of having their student media ticket outlined on factional how-to-vote cards. However, this often means that the individual student media how-to-vote cards will endorse certain SRC, Board, or NUS candidates in return for this ever-powerful factional endorsement.

This has been a rather contentious issue which has poked its ugly head at every student media election since 2014. The idea that the winning ticket for either student media position has won because of political endorsements is a pervasive one which former editors have openly criticised.

This issue is so important for student media. This is because in the last three years, all winning tickets have had to play a scrutinising role on the very people who helped get them elected. This creates a rather insidious presumption; that On Dit editors or Student Radio directors can hold a clearly defined bias towards those who endorsed them in the election the year before.

Many within student politics blame Leighton McDonald-Stuart for creating this precedent.

Though interestingly, Leighton told On Dit that his faction is all for non-political student media elections. Perhaps a bit of remorse on his part?

What should be done?

From the answers we received, we could see three models for how student media elections should be conducted. These are as follows:

Editorship by appointment

There have been whispers this year that a push to scrap student media elections altogether is being made by certain media tickets and factions. This will lead to only one alternative — editorship by appointment. This is the model favoured by Frequency for Student Radio. Tim Whiffen from Frequency told us that “we don’t even support student media being elected, we would rather it be applied for and appointed by staff and old directors/editors”.

Those advocating for appointments do so from a philosophy of meritocracy — the idea that the best, most experienced people for the job should be selected.

Editorship by appointment is not a new thing for Australian student media. Many publications such as Farrago (University of Melbourne Student Union), Tharunka (Arc UNSW Student Life) and Verse (UniSA Student Association) adopt this model whereby directors are appointed outside of traditional student elections. However, votes are still undertaken within these student media structures to appoint editors.

Internal elections pose an interesting dilemma. Whilst the elections are independent from the hacky hustle and bustle of regular student elections, they aren’t as open and free to all other students as said elections are.

This form of appointment is concerning to anyone who favours an openly democratic model of electing student media directors (see Left Voice’s response later on in this article). But for those advocating this model, the compromise is a necessary one

Independent student media elections

Just like a solar eclipse, some things seemingly occur only once in a lifetime. Perhaps the most fleeting natural phenomenon of our time is Labor Left (Activate) and the Liberals (Swipe-Right) actually reaching a consensus on something. Speaking to On Dit, Leighton McDonald-Stuart of Swipe Right said

“We (along with Activate) were quite keen to see all factions agree to not endorse student media candidates during or before student elections. This would ensure that student media isn’t politicised and that media tickets can compete purely on media grounds. We’re dismayed to see that other factions did not want to see an independent contest for student media”

Mark Pace from Activate echoed this sentiment telling us that

“We sent this proposal to every faction and media ticket to see if we could get every ticket involved in elections to agree and honour that. The tickets that didn’t agree to this were Progress (who blatantly ignored all contact from us on this matter), Unity (who said they’ll follow the lead of the media tickets they’ve already endorsed), and then the On Dit and Student Radio tickets that are being endorsed by Progress and Unite.”

Of the five teams running for student media positions this year, only two gave their support for this idea. One being Weatherill, Dolan and Hawke-Nesbitt for Student Radio who told us:

“Student media NEEDS to be independent from the political side of things. Otherwise, there is too much influence and power given to the student politicians who could misuse the media for their own gain. The AUU manages $2m in student funds and student media needs to be able to keep them accountable.”

Bemmer, Denney and Burnet mirrored this sentiment telling us that

“We strongly support all media to be non-politicised so as to not be a mouthpiece for any political faction. Student media should be about giving a voice to all points of view no matter what political alignment.”

The Status Quo

And, of course, there is what we already have: politically endorsed student media tickets. Of the teams we spoke to, Left Action and Unite were very much in favour of this model. Diversify for On Dit were less enthusiastic about it, but were still in favour of keeping things the same.

Here is what Jack Crawford from Left Action had to say on the matter:

We support, as a democratic right, the ability of political groups and student media groups to reach agreements and endorse each other. For example, there are Young Liberals running for On Dit this year. It is more honest for them to be paired with their fellow right-wing troglodytes running for student union positions. Likewise, I will be pointing out their disgusting politics, and telling students not to vote for a Liberal-aligned On Dit ticket. That is my right. To impose a rule disallowing the political factions to recommend student media candidates would put a gag on political campaigners, and simply obscure the political reality of the student media tickets.

Diversify for On Dit told us that their ticket supports the “depoliticisation and independence of student media elections”. However, they went on to say that this could not be achieved by withdrawing political endorsements as factions would still be “directing voters to their preferred student media tickets even if there are no endorsements on paper.” Further, they argued that without political endorsements, voters were less inclined to vote for student media in the first place. “…How many voters would be likely to accept a how-to-vote card from a political faction and then an On Dit candidate? We think few, as most voters would believe that everything they need to vote would be on the one how-to-vote card.”

However, Matt Boughey from Unite has implied that there may be a possibility of supporting independent student media elections if Adelaide can somehow ensure that student media candidates aren’t factionally aligned:

As far as I can remember factions have always supported student media candidates. Unite this year has made the decision to back the On Dit and Student Radio teams we believe will do the best job. None of these candidates are involved in any factions and until every student media team can also say this, student media elections will never truly be independent.

Perhaps, then, it is only until we purge student media of the Leightons that we may finally see purely independent student media elections.

PS: We still love you ^LMS ❤

Written by

Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Nicholas Birchall, Felix Eldridge, Taylor Fernandez and Larisa Forgac. Email us at onditmag@gmail.com

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