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May 27, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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Freedom of Press?

A while back I was talking to members of other students’ associations around the country about student media. We discussed the role that this organ played in promoting student issues. When it was unveiled that Salient had editorial independence, a few of the other associations were horrified. They couldn’t understand why we’d fund something which was allowed to criticise the students association.

The question of freedom of press and how far this should go is an age old debate. It’s one that is often raised on campus in regard to Salient. In the three and a bit years I’ve been on the VUWSA exec I’ve lost count of the number of times people (particularly exec members) have questioned whether Salient can publish certain things. At the end of last year, Victoria University management got a high court injunction to stop the release of an edition of Salient that had leaked confidential university council papers stating how much the university intended raising student fees for 2006. Eventually that injunction was lifted and the Salient was released – though not before about 50 students occupied the Vice Chancellor’s office during the weekly Student Representative Council.

So what exactly is Salient allowed to print? Who actually gets to say what goes in Salient and what doesn’t, and what gives Salient that power?

Salient is governed by Schedule 3 of the VUWSA constitution, specifically the Salient Charter. This charter spells out what Salient is obliged to do, and also the many rights it has. The 17 point charter is mostly pretty general – it has guidelines to be followed and protects Salient from political interference from the VUWSA exec or elsewhere. Basically, about 90% of the time, the Salient editor has full independence to publish what they like.

But who sets this Charter for Salient? Students have voted on the Charter at General Meetings of the Students Association. Students can make changes to the Salient Charter in the same way that they make other changes to the VUWSA constitution at general meetings. So ultimately Salient gets its mandate to do what it does from students.

Personally I think editorial independence is a brilliant thing. I’d have no desire to try and be a Pinochet-style dictator and control what Salient can print. It provides public scrutiny to decisions made by the association and the university management. Salient is also a good way to create debate and discuss the issues of the day and inform students of what is going on.

I do however, admit to being frustrated at times by Salient.

There have been a couple of times when relatively important things have been discussed or decided at SRCs or exec meetings but Salient hasn’t reported them. Salient tends to vary in quality each year (I’m not making a call for 2006 yet James, ask me in October)(That’s alright Nick, I’ll crap in your office another day- Ed). The level of background knowledge of the students association and the university tends to affect the quality of news and content – and again this varies yearly.

Salient is, however, receptive to new content ideas and is usually keen to get in articles from students and provide a forum for discussion of ideas and concepts.

One member of the 2006 general exec read over the last five or six years of Salient before he started on the exec. He found this gave him a wealth of background knowledge and information about VUWSA and the university. Salient is by far the best way to get a general picture of what happens at our university in a given year. You often get a feel for the mood of university students and what’s going on in our university community by reading Salient. Salient started in 1938 and is now 68 years old, and in this time it has been a record of social and political change in society. Some examples are the 1981 Springbok tour, the early 70s anti Vietnam War movement, or the 1990s changes to tertiary funding and the increased commodification of education. By reading old copies of Salient you can see how these changes occurred and what the response of students was. (Oh, Nick, I never knew you cared!- Ed)

This week:
So what’s going on this week? On Wednesday March 29th for our Student Representative Council (SRC) meeting, Michael Cullen the Minister of Tertiary education is coming onto campus to promote the Interest write-off scheme. This is your opportunity to question the Minister about tertiary education policy and find out the direction the government wants to take the sector. This is at 12:30 in the quad outside the Library. We’ll probably have some sort of social event to mark this policy win – keep an eye out for advertising around campus.

I hope study is going well for everyone. You’ll probably be starting to get into those first few essays and assignments over the next week or so. Remember to take time out every so often so you don’t burn out and become stressed. One chance for time out is Thursday’s Tui Trivia Quiz night. This starts at 6pm at Eastsi… er I mean the Mount St Bar and Café.

Have a good week.

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