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We Need to Encourage Free Speech at UK Universities, Not Silence

25/04/2016 16:35

Student media is being censored by the tight leash of the student union around its neck, and the eyes of university management cautiously watching over.

Many top universities have had strong student media that hold their university and union to account for decades, but the lack of freedom to do this is becoming more apparent in particular newspapers. At Warwick, the student's union (SU) had attempted to ban an anti-ISIS speaker, and at LSE, a free speech society was in the news for being 'shut down'. These restrictions of freedom of speech are a danger to the open environment that makes university education in the UK of such high quality.

These networks of control stem further than this though. Student media tends to struggle at some universities without support from their union, so at many universities, the thousands of weekly papers printed would be far tougher to produce without the direct help from the SU. This dependence drives these 'independent' student newspapers into the control of their SU.

However, yesterday motion 314 was put forward to be voted on by the NUS. Motion 314 gives student media freedom to cover union officer elections without the interference of their union. Currently at some universities, such as the University of Bath, the union has to look over what is printed, and this can discourage writers from being honest, and give unions the power to veto articles they dislike.

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Tommy Parker is the media officer at Bath pushed this motion into action, he told me; 'I have proposed this motion so media can actually provide accurate and more comprehensive coverage during officer elections. We asked to conduct coverage of officer elections, to talk about candidates' manifesto points and their feasibility. This is up to the Returning Officer which is NUS, but they said no.' Thankfully motion 314 passed yesterday; freeing the student media I was part of to fairly cover the elections that are so important to students.

However, with each step forward, the NUS takes more back. If they can't prevent student media covering their elected officials, they have decided to take their issue with social media instead - banning the use of Yik Yak. This is abhorrent and vastly damaging to not only freedom of speech at university, but also the democracy these student unions are trying to create.

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Source: Bill Kerr/Flickr

Student's have had enough of 'safe spaces'. Our candidates and students needs the real challenge of what students actually think. We need the challenge of the real world, where people aren't nice, because people aren't censored. The coddling of ideas at universities breeds nothing but incompetence and falsely assumed arrogance.

The biggest shame is that these attempts will turn out to be fairly futile at preventing the tidal wave of judgement students receive online. We now live in an era of constant international communications and access to our lives through the internet. Why, of all places, would a place of free thinking and learning be the place to prevent incoming transmissions, debate and thought?

We need more motions like motion 314, and less that ban our media, social or otherwise, from doing its job - informing and giving freedom to those who want to voice to be heard when they tell their opposing opinions. We need to encourage free speech at UK universities, not silence.

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