25 November 2005

Editor's Statement No 2 - A week on

Editor’s Statement on the Student Media
A week on...

Firstly, Spark will be printing this week (and is now available online). This statement will outline the events which caused the Spark account to be frozen and what has happened since. I expect that some members of the Executive will disagree with some of this statement, and their comments are welcome.

Last week's issue of Spark contained an article which the President of RUSU believed breached the Advertising and Sponsorship policy. Despite repeated notice that the paper could contain a breach, the Editor did not remove the offending section as he felt there was no breach. The breach in question was for a jazz venue in town and can be found on Page 27. The Editor believed there was no breach as the Union does not offer jazz.

Dave Lewis, President of RUSU, took the very unfortunate step of suspending funding for Spark, the student newspaper. He then handed the Editor of Spark a letter stating the Spark account would only be thawed when an "editorial contract" was signed. This contract contained a clause to the effect that editorial independence could be suspended whenever the RUSU executive believed the paper was breaching policy.

This Union needs a paper which can criticise the Executive Committee, but it must operate fairly and responsibly to the Union’s 16,000 members. This is a question of freedom of speech and of threatening volunteers, albeit in an indelibrate way, as Mr Lewis has tried his best to resolve this matter. It is a matter of principle that the student newspaper should be editorially independent when it comes to issues not covered by the law.

At a meeting between the Executive and Spark on Monday the decision was taken to unfreeze the Spark account, pending discussions on Spark's editorial independence. There are many areas where the Executive and Spark agree, but there are also areas where our opinions sharply differ and it is hoped at the end of term we can come to a mutually beneficial resolution to this matter that will mean no future editors or executives have to tackle this issue again.

On a side note, one member of the Executive this week stated that:
"editorial independence is a privilege given to the Student media by the membership through its constitution and regulations, not a right of it. If it were a right then all Students Union’s would have it – not just Reading."
This is in clear disregard of the fact that most student newspapers do have editorial independence and also in disregard to the law. As Editor of Spark I find this statement quite worrying and a threat to our student newspaper. Hopefully, however, I hope that the individual concerned will see the fault of this statement, admittedly said in the heat of the moment and this will not affect future discussions about Spark's position within RUSU.

PS. Dave Lewis (RUSU President) has also issued a statement about the recent developments

20 November 2005

Editor's Statement

Editor’s Statement on the Student Media

You might have missed it, but yesterday's issue of Spark might have contained a breach of the Advertising and Sponsorship policy*. The President has issued a statement explaining the repercussions of this possible breach (found here) and this is a response to that statement. Please read it, as it seeks to reassure members of the student body, the Executive, volunteers for Spark and the Editorial team of Spark.

As President, Dave Lewis took the very unfortunate step of suspending funding for the forthcoming issue of Spark, the Reading University student newspaper. In the edition 18th November 2005, there is a possible breach of the Advertising and Sponsorship policy, which Student Council will decide on later in the week. Despite repeated notice that the paper could contain a breach, the Editor did not remove the offending section as he felt there was no breach. The breach in question was for a jazz venue in town and can be found on Page 27.

Policy is passed by the Union’s sovereign body – Student Council. Every member of the Union has a duty to uphold decisions made by Student Council. As a Union, we can not allow a breach of the policy, and so the Executive need to clarify both their position regarding the constitution/regulations/law and the Editor of Spark’s position. To this end, they have frozen funding in an attempt to strong arm the Editor into signing a contract that effectively removes Spark's editorial independence. The decision to freeze funding was made at an Executive meeting attended by 5 Exec members and therefore is not an "official" Executive decision.


Every Thursday the VP Development and Spark Editor make sure that the paper complies with the law, RUSU Constitution and RUSU Regulations. We want the paper to be independent, we want it to criticise the Executive and we want it to develop its volunteers. The VP Development and Spark Editor could not agree on the removal of the section as when the Spark Editor communicated he would not remove the section and laid out his reasons, the VP Development walked off.


The VP Development was left with three choices
  1. Remove the page without the Editor’s consent
  2. Stop the printing run of the paper - Both 1 and 2 are very unfair to the volunteers involved writing for the paper. As we want the paper to be editorially independent, VP Development allowed the third option:
  3. Printing to go ahead.
This third choice meant that Union policy could have been broken, and that both the VP Development and Spark Editor are now subject to sanctions by Student Council. Students may like to note that the section editor did agree to remove part of the offending article, but the VP Development refused to let her and claimed to have a "better solution".


Although this move may seem extreme or indeed trivial to some, it has been done under great strain and stress, this issue needs to be resolved promptly. Issues like this have existed within Spark for many years, and as Editor, we need a swift and decisive resolution. This Union needs a paper which can criticise the Executive Committee, but it must operate fairly and responsibly to the Union’s 16,000 members. If I allowed the paper to go to print next Thursday without the clarification of the Executive’s and Spark Editor’s position and responsibilities, I will fail as an Editor. I am not prepared for this to happen.


This is a question of freedom of speech and of threatening volunteers, albeit in an indelibrate way, as Mr Lewis has tried his best to resolve this matter. It is a matter of principle that the student newspaper should be editorially independent when it comes to issues not covered by the law. An agreement (the "Editorial Contract") has been drawn up which clarifies the position of the Executive and of the Editor of Spark. It reflects the law, responsibilities and obligations the Executive and Editor will agree to. The Executive are ultimately responsible for all activities within the Union, this agreement reflects this. Some sections of the contract are new, for example a section stating that "editorial independence can be suspended by the Executive when it sees fit". There is confusion about the role of the Executive and the Editor of Spark, this clarifies it and hopefully the printing can go ahead. The Executive and Editors of Spark will be negotiating terms this week which, it is hoped, both parties will find acceptable.


Volunteers for Spark should continue to write their articles this week. This issue is not a reflection on them, it is that there needs to be clarification of the Editor’s role. I fully anticipate that a paper will go to print next Thursday.

Yours,

Gavin Whenman
Editor, Spark
editor.spark@rdg.ac.uk

* Student Council is still to decide whether it did. The current position is that the RUSU President believes it does and the Spark Editor believes it does not.

Update

A week on, the Editor writes again.

09 November 2005

Labour Rebels

Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington)
John Austin (Erith & Thamesmead)
Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield)
Michael Clapham (Barnsley West & Penistone)
Katy Clark (Ayrshire North and Arran)
Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead)
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North)
Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne Central)
Ann Cryer (Keighley)
Frank Dobson (Holborn & St Pancras)
Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe & Nantwich)
Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central)
Paul Flynn (Newport West)
Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)
Ian Gibson (Norwich North)
Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath)
John Grogan (Selby)
David Hamilton (Midlothian)
Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne North)
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North)
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead & Highgate)
Sian James (Swansea East)
Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak)
Sadiq Khan (Tooting)
Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool Walton)
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North & Leith)
Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central)
Andy Love (Edmonton)
Christine McCafferty (Calder Valley)
John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington)
Bob Marshall-Andrews (Medway)
Michael Meacher (Oldham West & Royton)
Julie Morgan (Cardiff North)
George Mudie (Leeds East)
Chris Mullin (Sunderland South)
Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
Nick Raynsford (Greenwich & Woolwich)
Linda Riordan (Halifax)
Clare Short (Birmingham Ladywood)
Alan Simpson (Nottingham South)
Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South)
David Taylor (Leicestershire North West)
Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury)
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth)
Bob Wareing (Liverpool West Derby)
David Winnick (Walsall North)
Mike Wood (Batley & Spen)

I thank you.