University of Sydney SRC president criticised for “egregious overreach of executive power”
University of Sydney’s Student Representative Council (SRC) President Jacky He has come under fire from Honi Soit on allegations of censorship. This is in reaction to He’s removal of a live blog post on Wednesday 15 May where it was alleged He “harassed and shouted at [USU Board candidate Ruolin (Irene) Ma’s] campaigners.”
This event has raised questions about the efficacy of student publications’ reliance on SRC funding, and the group’s subsequent power over material being reported.
Honi Soit reported in a statement undersigned by several previous editors: “There were reasonable steps that He could have taken before deciding to censor the Honi Soit live blog. He could have provided comment to Honi in his defence against the allegations or requested an amendment to the post. However, all of these steps were bypassed so He could regulate and remove content portraying him in a negative light.”
“The value of Honi Soit lies in its ability to chronicle the actions of those who go on to yield enormous amounts of power in the Australian political landscape.”
At UTS, the Students’ Association (UTSSA) is protected from any potentially legally liable material Vertigo may publish by a Director of Student Publications (DSP). Michael Zacharatos, the current DSP, has said: “Censoring an article should be a decision acted upon in only the most extreme circumstances. For example, articles which are discriminatory or hateful should not see publication…if journalism is handled professionally and correctly, there should never be an excuse for censorship.” In this case, the Honi editors admitted that proper journalistic practice should have seen them disclosing the source of the allegations, as well as providing a right of reply to He, but still claim that He’s censorship showed an “egregious overreach of executive power.”
He has defended his actions, saying: “There are legal problems relating to not stating where the rumour of me engaging in ‘shouting and harassing’ comes from.” He reportedly has “full liability for the organisation whereas the Honi Soit Editors technically do not.” He maintains the allegations against him are untruthful, and has admonished Honi for not seeking comment from him before publishing their blog post.
When asked about UTS’ grounds for such an event, Zacharatos told Vertigo, “These would not be valid grounds for redaction at UTS. However, it is not difficult to imagine a similar scenario playing out. Across most universities, the SRC and Executive is made up of students who are likely unaware of what even constitutes ‘valid grounds for redaction’, and instead view their publication as a mouthpiece to further the SRC’s agenda.”
This is especially poignant in a university context, where the SA president, DSP, and SRC broadly have significant control over student publications’ budget and content. In some situations this can prove mutually advantageous, fostering an environment of collaboration and cooperation between student politics and publications. The UTSSA President Mehmet Musa told Vertigo: “Whilst some may consider the SRC approving the Vertigo budget as a potential tool of influence against Vertigo, I must note that the budget is approved at the start of the year. Hence, a president cannot come in half way through the year and threaten the team’s budget that has already been approved.”
“The SRC can alter a budget, meaning this is a check on the president’s powers. The SRC is comprised of many individuals who have different views to the president.”
The censorship of Honi’s live blog post is simply a part of the problematic pattern of SRC members at the University of Sydney and beyond restricting university publications on the grounds of protecting their self-image. This censorship can occur in a variety of ways, from threatening to cut funding, to an abuse of official channels like grievance tribunals or mediation. In any case, a move to censor can appear to a student body as reactive damage-control of an SRC’s public image.
This raises questions as to how to manage reporting in a university context. As DSP Zacharatos added: “Student publications will continue to be censored so long as they are dependent on the president and the SRC for financing and permission to publish content.”
EDITED 29th May 2019, 3:51pm — quote from IPA removed.