Censorship, Democracy, E.U.S.A. Presidency, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh University Student Newspaper, EUSA, Feminism, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, James McAsh, Jay Jones, JMC, Max Crema, Opinion, Pollock Halls, President of E.U.S.A.
Last month the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) sought an interim interdict from the Court of Session to spike an article in The Student newspaper. Since The Student had already gone to print, an entire edition had to be withdrawn from distribution, with thousands of pages of quality student journalism being lost (blank face).
The Student was prevented from publishing further details about the temporary dismissal of EUSA’s Vice-President (Services) Max Crema. A story which ends with an article being suppressed had begun with an article being suppressed. According to the Journal newspaper, Crema was suspended last July by EUSA “to protect its democratic culture,” even though he was himself an elected official. EUSA not only overruled the will of its voters but lied to them, claiming that Crema was “out of the office for personal reasons.” In fact he had posted a whistle-blower’s accusations about bullying within EUSA on the association’s official blog. Some energetic deleting seems to have resulted, the “democratic culture” having dictated that the whistle-blower become a non-person.
Tychy is wary of this story because almost all of it comes from a single and rather sparse article in the Journal, with magisterial silence from EUSA itself. It is rather an indictment of a supposedly “democratic” organisation that an alleged altercation between its senior figures was kept out of the campus papers for the next four months. Yet EUSA have now suddenly scrambled for legal recourse to protect what they fancy is their “reputation amongst the student population.” In earning hostile press coverage from the Scotsman, the Herald and the Huffington Post, EUSA at least now have a reputation. But they might as well have taken out a full page advert in the Student, declaring that “there is definitely corruption in our organisation.”
This week’s edition of The Student claims that EUSA’s censorship is “contrary to its democratic mandate and raison d’etre.” Yet EUSA has never been democratic to any practical effect. The President only stands for one term, and so he (this year James McAsh) can promise anything to the voters and then swan off after the election knowing that he will be never held to account.
The gulf between the cosmetic and the actual can be seen in McAsh’s public statements before and after winning the presidency. Before: “I’m James McAsh and I bloody love democracy. Without democracy our movement is stagnant…” After: “Although we are a democratic organisation there are certain legal obligations that we are required to adhere to.” By “we,” he means the Student newspaper, which is now required to adhere to the obligation of keeping their journalism to themselves.
“I bloody love democracy but I’m turning this university into a banana republic.” With an impressive command of legal thuggery, EUSA have forced the Student to pay its own legal fees (even though the newspaper is put together by part time volunteers). In a ruling as bloodcurdling as it is crackpot, the Court of Session has barred the Student from publishing “any material purporting to suggest that [EUSA] is an organisation which is poorly governed and whose management are inexperienced and unaccountable.” This irony is particularly juicy: “by law you cannot hold us to account for being unaccountable.” [See Endnotes.]
We have only a few hairs of this story. The Student’s “censored” edition is careful to mince its words, giving away no clues as to the contents of the expunged story (other than that “its veracity… was never disputed”) or who leaked it. This much is self-evident: an elected official had been disciplined for challenging some important EUSA personage; and the altercation must have been embarrassing enough to warrant throwing away the president’s last shred of credibility in order to keep it secret. Yet the fact remains that EUSA are in an overwhelming position of weakness. If I was editor of The Student (I’m too old) I would not have blinked. I suspect that a president who spends half his time lecturing others about “democratic engagement” could not have led a legal crackdown upon press freedom in the end. The man must have at least some embarrassment and surely the prospect of going down in history as the worst ever EUSA president would have acted as a deterrent.
Hard Cheese on Press Freedom.
It has been a noticeably bad year for freedom of speech at the University of Edinburgh. Last October, the Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub was chased away from a Teviot Place lecture theatre by a furious mob. The student society behind the ambassador’s visit responded with impressive dignity, thanking its audience “for standing up in favour of debate and freedom of speech and for trying to reason with those who stood against it.” Yet the University of Edinburgh was left looking inhospitable to open debate and Enlightened values. In future, it might be better to play safe and invite unassuming, uncontroversial guests.
“It is not just us as a newspaper who have been gagged in this situation; it is every student at this university.” When the Student newspaper issues an editorial defending the freedom of the press, it means, of course, its own freedom. In October, the same month as the attack upon the Israeli ambassador, EUSA not merely banned a single edition of a newspaper but every edition of Britain’s best-selling newspaper. How could university students – surely the most adamant defenders of the freedom of the press? – support such outright censorship? Had Nazis taken over EUSA? Was civilisation collapsing? And where were the Student editorials rallying us to the defence of press freedom?
But it seems that rather than representing an ideal the freedom of the press is something which should be subject to case-by-case adjudication. And when it comes to the Sun, why, the need to stifle press freedom is suddenly entirely understandable.
At first the “No More Page 3” brigade appears to be simply idiotic. Their address to EUSA complains that Page 3 “normalises the objectification of women” and that we should “refuse to see women as objects.” Yet it transpires that Page 3 girls are themselves nothing but “objects.” They are certainly not autonomous subjects who can make decisions for themselves about when to get their tits out. The “No More Page 3” campaign is not merely dedicated to covering up girls’ bodies but denying that they have minds at all.
There was more to this campaign than feminism. Other newspapers such as the Star and the Sun on Sunday remain unaffected by the boycott, despite running identical topless features to the standard Sun. The EUSA boycott only makes sense when comprehended as class warfare. The little people – the people who clean your rooms at Pollock halls and cook your breakfast in the kitchens – are commonly supposed to read the Sun, and they are obviously too stupid to understand your sophisticated feminist arguments about the objectification of objects. The solution: treat them as children and confiscate their newspapers. In these conditions, terminating the freedom of the press is, at least in one sense of the term, a no brainer.
Coming to a Face Near You.
This morning Tychy splashed out on Jay Jones’ face. Allow me to explain: 19 year old Edinburgh University student Jay Jones has set up a business selling advertising space on his own face. His artist pal Richard Thompson uses face paint to apply each day’s slogans and adverts. The project has been set up for a hundred days, and Jones hopes to raise enough revenue to pay off his tuition fees. The Scotsman is inevitably dazzled by Jones’ spirited entrepreneurialism.
Not since a guerrilla poster campaign in 2008 has Tychy done anything to advertise this website, largely out of a scepticism that it can realistically appeal to people. Yet Jones is surprisingly good value for money. I doubt that you can take artistic cuttings from this website and transplant them into somebody’s physiognomy. It is also difficult to read a web address off somebody’s face whilst they are walking past you in the street. But it may become a talking point when queuing for coffee in the JMC. Students sitting opposite Jones during a gruelling tutorial may find their eyes resting on the word “Tychy.” One of them might just think, “I must Google that later…”
Speaking of the JMC, Jones should really offer them free advertising. After all, he is broadcasting directly to the JMC’s 2000+ diners, and so the restaurant should get something in return. The three initials (I still prefer the older, more general abbreviation) could be painted on a spare earlobe. Or maybe, since the JMC hardly needs advertising, one of its fierce notices about taking fruit out of the dining hall could be printed under his nose like a moustache.
Numerous people have since tried to ruin my excitement by pointing out that I could have written Tychy on my own face and saved myself an unnecessary cost. But I doubt that my hands are as steady as these teenagers. I would probably look mentally unstable if I walked about with words painted on my face, whereas Jones looks assured and professional. Tychy’s facial-advertising will debut on Feb 16th.
[Update: It may be worth a wee back-pedal on the question of EUSA’s legal costs and the accountability question. David Banks, writing in today’s Guardian, claims that “It seems the [interdict]… does not include wider coverage of Eusa, nor does it make mention of costs, which the Eusa had also sought.” The Journal had previously reported that the interdict “appears to order the paper to pay EUSA’s legal costs.” “Seems” vs “Appears”? The Journal, unlike Banks, claims to have seen the interdict. Ed.]
[Further update: It appears that the Journal have confused EUSA’s solicitors submission with the interdict itself. Henceforth, the interdict does not prevent any criticism of EUSA for being unaccountable, and Lord Jones’ ruling is neither “crackpot” nor “bloodcurdling” as stated above. The fact still stands, however, that EUSA had sought legal protection from the Student making criticisms of its management. Ed.]