Student organizations need to trust each other to survive

I am a student journalist. Some people take me seriously, and others do not. Regardless of personal vendettas, the bottom line is that it is my job to get information and relay it to you in a way that will encourage you to care.

But being a journalist is not always easy. People don’t return your calls, your friends precede every sentence with “this is off the record,” and, in some situations, people don’t speak to you or acknowledge your existence. Although I am not here to whine to you about how complicated life can be with a media pass, it is important for you to know that this stuff actually happens.
Being a journalist isn’t as flashy as it appears in movies like All the President’s Men.

We don’t all have a Deep Throat slipping us information. Instead, we have doors being slammed in our faces, and unrealistic “guidelines” being slipped to us in the form of a contract.
Now, it doesn’t matter if you don’t sympathize with my little sob story. I love what I do. It is, however, important for you to question why certain organizations are making it difficult for journalists to receive information. Is it for protection of their members, or is it to cover up a greater scandal?

Take student organizations, for example. The Capilano Courier is one, as is the Capilano Students’ Union and the Canadian Federation of Students. Many student organizations share a similar goal. In one way or another, they should benefit students. Student newspapers, for example, fight to benefit students through providing accurate coverage of student issues. Student unions are supposed to work for the rights of students and provide student services – as is the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). They all represent, are funded by, and work for, the same people.

Despite that common factor, however, student organizations are constantly working against each other. As a recent media delegate to the semi-annual general meeting (SAGM) of the CFS-British Columbia, I experienced this first hand. Not only did some attendees at this meeting express distrust of the media delegates, they also expressed concern with the behaviour of delegates from within the CFS. For an organization whose mantra is, “Students united will never be defeated,” there is a lot of in-fighting going on that I can only imagine will result in chaos.
To explain this with a microcosmic effect, I have compiled a list of things we were fortunate enough to experience as media at the CFS-BC SAGM – as a precaution to any media looking to attend a general meeting. It is through this compilation that I hope to shed some light on why, without some sort of change, the future of student organizations is abysmal.

1. It’ll cost you.
In order to attend the CFS-BC SAGM, delegates from student societies were required to pay a $200 fee. This fee covered transportation costs, accommodation costs, and food costs. Media delegates were also required to pay $200, which exclusively covered their food costs – while they were left to provide their own transportation and accommodation for the duration of the meeting. At the closing plenary of the SAGM, the provincial office executive was questioned about the media fee, and why it was equivalent to that of local delegates. The executive replied that the delegation costs also helped to cover the costs of meeting rooms.

2. You will have a babysitter.
Officially, this position was referred to as “media liaison” – it was this person’s job to ensure that media adhered to their contract and to act as a liaison if media had any questions or wanted to talk to any of the speakers.
Although this seems fairly reasonable, it was rather disconcerting to have our media liaison come find us during dinner after we had left her for five minutes in order to line up and get food, likely because she wanted to ensure we hadn’t disappeared. The media liaison also sat with us whenever possible during the sessions media were allowed to attend.

3. You will be placed in isolation.
In order to obtain media credentials for the meeting, we were required to sign a contract entitled Media Protocol. One of the points on this document was that we were not allowed to go to any of the CFS’s “official” socials. A combination of alcohol and loose tongues, it seems, would be bad. The irony in this situation is that delegates would not be the only ones enjoying themselves. Journalists also enjoy the casual drink ... or five. Given this logic, if the delegates are drunk enough to let information slip, the media will be too drunk to remember.
As well as being forbidden from attending official socials, we were also not allowed to enter the residence of any delegate for the duration of the meeting. If a delegate asked us to enter their room, we were still unable to go in.

4. Don’t look forward to making new friends.
Many people choose to look at media like they have a disease. You can be walking down a hallway, with people smiling and waving at you. The second they see your media badge, this all stops. For days, a significant percentage of delegates will not eat with you, talk with you, or make eye contact. Likely only the delegates from schools with no reputation left to lose will have anything to do with you.
Also, do not believe that you will be able to blend in. You get to walk around the meeting sporting a flashy media badge, and you get a huge media sign marking where you should sit whenever you are in plenary. When people look at you with distrust written all over their faces, try not to let it get to you. It’s nothing personal. I have frequently observed that student politicians often believe that everything they do, from making a speech about tuition fees to drinking a cup of water, is newspaper worthy. Thank goodness you know better.

5. Be prepared to sign your life away.
In order to earn media credentials for the CFS-BC SAGM, media delegates were required to sign a document entitled Media Protocol, which detailed the conditions under which credentials would be received. Although the office executive stated during closing plenary that media delegates signed the agreement voluntarily, the document read, “I have read and understood the preceding conditions of my credentials and understand that any behaviour interpreted by the Executive Committee to breach these conditions will result in the immediate repeal of my credentials.”
The agreement has been used before at national CFS meetings, which have a different media policy than CFS-BC. The conditions that you sign on to include not entering the residence of delegates, exercising a publication embargo, not attending closed sessions and displaying your media badge at all times.

6. You may be accused of having no morals.
During a discussion about their media policy, delegates from various student unions suggested that it was necessary to hold journalists to a code of ethics or journalistic standards.
“It is a reasonable thing that the Executive Committee to require that a media person attending the meeting holds itself to a code of ethics, that holds itself to a set of journalistic standards about reporting,” said Steve Beasley from Vancouver Island University. “Because otherwise, what you’re going to have at meetings is an open call – is just anyone who claims themselves a member of the media.”
Although a blanket statement about a lack of journalistic morals is offensive, they may have a point. Those who are self-declared media perhaps do not have the same industry pressure to maintain a high level of journalistic standards.

7. Chances of you attending the meeting are slim.
A motion passed at the SAGM that stated that the Executive Committee would now extend an invitation to members of the media to attend their meetings. Previously, members of the media were allowed to request to attend. The only thing to do now is sit and wait.

The CFS has a media policy, something that is reasonable for any organization of its stature. What is unreasonable is the length to which certain groups will go to keep media out.  If I’m having trouble getting information for a story, I’m more likely to become suspicious and work to expose the truth.

As students, we have a responsibility to work together. Too often are we the victims of discrimination based on any combination of factors. The second we start fighting amongst each other, we become weak, and any hope we had for affirmative action is lost. Until we are making an attempt to work together, between student associations, student press and student federations, I’ll stare at my media pass and dream of the day when I won’t be treated as a lesser human being because of my chosen profession. One day, maybe we can all be friends – and that is the day when our voice will finally be louder than all those who rise against us because we’re students.

//Samantha Thompson
News Editor

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com