January 30, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 67  

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NEWS

Journal needs autonomy

It was disturbing to learn that the students’ council at Queen’s University has plans to change how the Editors-in-Chief of the student newspaper, The Journal, are selected.

The proposal, now being examined by the Alma Mater Society at Queen’s, would allow some student politicians to vote in the newspaper’s annual elections. The AMS general assembly would also vote to ratify the winners of the election.

To the casual reader, this may not seem like a bad idea. In fact it might appear to open up the election process, potentially making it more “democratic.” In theory it would allow the AMS, which owns The Journal and are liable for anything the paper prints, to keep a check on who is running the show.

But the changes are not as innocent as they seem — in fact, they are a direct threat to the editorial autonomy of the newspaper.

Politicians should not play a role in choosing who runs a newspaper, because one of the key roles of the paper is to scrutinize the government — and in the case of a student paper like The Journal, the government is the AMS.

One of the suggested changes is to lower the number of contributions that are necessary for a volunteer to become a staff member at the paper and thereby be eligible to vote in the election. Currently, the number of contributions is four, the proposal is to lower it to one.

This proposal is fraught with problems. The staff could in theory be filled with supporters of one candidate — perhaps an AMS-friendly candidate — and thus be elected, even though they are not the most qualified for the positions.

The purpose of the elections is not to vote in the person who is most sensitive and complacent to the AMS, but to vote in the person most qualified to do the job.

One would hope the AMS has enough faith in the staff of The Journal to elect competent and qualified Editors-in-Chief to run the paper, just as it has been doing for years.

The editorial autonomy of the paper is under direct attack. Although the AMS says it does not want to control the content of the newspaper, its involvment in the electing and ratifying the Editors-in-Chief would severely influence how the paper goes about scrutinizing the working of the student government.

Once politics is brought into this process, a newspaper is no longer serving its mandate to its readers, which is to fairly and accurately scrutinize the government.

Just because a newspaper criticizes the government does not mean it is inherently biased against it. It is the paper’s duty to report both the bad and the good of elected officials.
The student politicians at Queen’s have failed to realize this. It is the newspaper’s duty to hold the government accountable, not the other way around.

 

 

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