On Tuesday April 28, I was suspended as a Tharunka editor by Arc@UNSW over articles that I took down in early March. This was in the wake of a great deal of controversy as to whether my actions were admissible by the charter, or ethical in their own right as the subject of the stories in question.
My justification for taking down the articles was never to rewrite history. I took the articles down because they conflicted with Tharunka’s charter and the ethical principles it enforces on published content. They were prominent examples of a long-running trend of editors using Tharunka to score points in personal disputes and to sledge the character and reputation of political rivals – generally in advance of student elections where friends or allies would be running.
Journalism should have stances – a paper should be honest about biases when they inevitably occur. But when a Tharunka team is to be voted for at an election that Tharunka editors are covering, there is an inherent conflict of interest: between your role as a public watchdog and as an elected candidate of a ticket or a supporter of a political side. The standard of journalism at each year’s election time should be that year’s highest, and historically it has been Tharunka at its worst.
Student media has always stretched boundaries, and it always should. There is a unique capacity to use papers like Tharunka to create controversy, to be provocative, and to upset the natural order of things; this is one of the key benefits of student media. But student media should only punch up, not down. It should target issues, governments, or chancelleries, not activists in a different subgroup to your own.
Moreover, times have changed. In the past, aggressive editorial stances by student editors had its effect at the time and quickly began gathering dust in an archive. In the age of the Internet, this is no longer the case. Articles written about 18 or 19-year-olds will follow them for the rest of their lives – long after the petty, largely meaningless vitriol of the original context has dissipated. I do not believe that is fair or acceptable.
While I believe I acted against a misuse of the publication, I accept that I did not have the authority as an editor to take down the articles. I’ve asked the current editors of Tharunka to restore the articles, and I hope they do. However, I have concluded that it is in the best interest of Tharunka as a paper to resign for the remainder of my term.
I hope in doing this, a broader discussion will begin about how student media can enhance student life, rather than target individuals. Student media is a podium. It needs to be used for the right reasons and to fight the right enemies. And if the current structures of Tharunka – its method of election, its composition, its budget and stated aims – are not conducive to achieving a net good for campus life, then those structures should be changed.
Electing only three editors, on the same ticket as the SRC, can only discourage transparency and balance, as editor teams in this system can only exist and be elected as branches of larger political groups. I know this for a fact, as it was a significant contribution to my own election. But going further: setting the paper’s budget as low as it is can only discourage readership, discourage writer contributions, and discourage editor effort. It is dismaying to write or edit for a paper that physically feels and looks cheap and which nobody reads or pays attention to. Student media should be funded, managed, edited, and written like it matters. Because it does.
This publication has been an amazing opportunity to learn new skills and apply my own to an exciting, challenging task. There are stories still in the works that I am proud of being part of telling, and I wish Ned and Lauren every success in continuing that work. It has been an honour.