Students across the country last year were justifiably left frustrated with Students' Union-owned media publications, as the gap between independence and censorship began to close. New editors stepped in as old ones left, a number of new publications were set up to regain accountability and many students became aware of the ongoing issue affecting journalism all over the world: the battle of ownership.
The majority of ethical journalism students would be idle to disagree that student media should be wholly independent; acting as an essential bridge between those in power and the student body. So of course everyone becomes outraged when unions are censoring their media - the fourth estate along with press independence gets lost in union translation and the entire purpose of student media comes into questioning. But is it possible to have a publication under provision of a union-elected media officer which is wholly independent?
Most university media outlets across the UK are owned and financed by the Students' Union and edited by a media officer who is elected by the students through a yearly election. They are a paid employee of the union and therefore have a duty of care to both other sabbatical officers as well as those volunteers under their power.
This highlights the first major problem facing student media - the officer themselves. It deems almost impossible to hold members of your own organisation to account with its best effect when you all work as union trustees under the same umbrella. Could an elected MP provide unbiased, constructive news that holds his other party members to account?
The ever-complicated relationship between the media officer and the union once again came into the limelight last year as students at the University of Central Lancashire were gagged by union representatives; leaving other student journalists across the country outraged, whilst others claimed the issue was conclusive of the ever-growing difficult position of the SU officer.
Former SU president, Reni Eddo-Lodge tweeted: "Funded by the union and run by a union trustee - it's not independent press", whilst others remained frustrated at the fact the website, which has since been shut down, branded itself "the independent student newspaper of UCLan."
For me, this proved how important it is that the editor-in-chief at any student media organisation should not be a union trustee, but an independent leader of media, as without an independent status, diluted versions of the truth will continue to suffice throughout student publications. It's impossible to make responsible decisions on behalf of the union as well as holding such concepts to account.
The media is an important source for students at university - you're paying for a service, and when that service is questioned, you should have a right to both know about its effects as well as have an active part in its future. This is why students at Sheffield University gained national coverage when their front page read: "The story your university doesn't want you to know about" - proving the vital role independent student media holds.
Student media has changed over the two years I was involved in it, but one thing remains the same: they should be independent of press control, act as the fourth estate and not present a misted reality forged by union representatives.
Although my opinion remains that publications should be wholly independent, I hope that the role of the media officer changes and adapts in order for this to be possible, because if it remains the same, student media will always be censored.
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