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Our Students’ Union is in disrepair. If last week’s Gen Sec election debacle demonstrates anything about the state of our Union, it tells a story of a toxic, divided and disunited Union.
Nevertheless, it also gave us the opportunity to seriously consider the role played by The Beaver during the election period and beyond. For me, this case has highlighted that the SU’s interpretation of the bylaws are too restrictive and, therefore, would unjustifiably limit The Beaver’s ability to report on issues of extraordinary public interest.
Firstly, to address the narrative that seems to have developed, depicting our relationship with the SU as a bitter and adversarial one. The Beaver values and heavily relies on the support and constructive criticism of the SU staff, and recognises the positive impact that they can have on The Beaver, the media group, and the student experience as a whole. We are an editorial board comprised of individuals with little professional experience and, without the crucial input of SU staff, it is unlikely that we could release any edition in a timely manner. Even in instances in which we object to the views offered and positions adopted by SU staff, we remain genuinely grateful for the help they provide us.
Despite our appreciation of the SU’s hard work, it is of fundamental importance that The Beaver remains editorially independent, as recognised by the LSESU Bylaws. As long as The Beaver’s content is legal, no outside authority should dictate what articles or editorials will or will not appear in the paper. An editorially independent Beaver fulfils the objectives of the LSESU and serves the students of LSE better than any publication editorially-controlled by the SU possibly could. It allows The Beaver, perhaps most crucially, to hold the SU to account when such criticism is required.
Naturally, with such power comes responsibility; the bylaws also entrust The Beaver’s editors with a number of responsibilities. During my year and a half at The Beaver, I have not known a single editor who has not taken these duties with the utmost consideration. Perhaps most prominently, Beaver editors always have LSE students in mind and endeavour to inform students of what is happening at the LSE and the SU through balanced, factual and fair news, particularly when The Beaver receives stories of great public interest.
Moreover, during the election period, The Beaver is required to uphold additional principles. These responsibilities include avoiding the display of a (positive or negative) preference for a candidate, and ensuring that our coverage of the elections is fair, accurate and balanced.
The bylaws are intentionally broad and, thus, room is left for their interpretation. For instance, it is not specified how a story will constitute a ‘fair’ one. I would not contend the argument that The Beaver ought to avoid flagrantly influencing the outcome of SU elections. For The Beaver to maintain its integrity in the future, I think that this must be the case. Moreover, the principles of ‘fair, accurate and balanced’ are not objectionable for any news publication to adhere to.
However, in the recent case of Rayhan’s private messages, which were subsequently made public, my opinion is that the SU’s interpretation of these bylaws were too restrictive. Whilst the editors involved appreciated the concerns regarding impartiality, privacy, fairness and so on, these issues are never black and white. Furthermore, they are in conflict with the principles that The Beaver is required to uphold according to the bylaws, including informing the student body.
The SU’s contention that publishing the story would be in breach of the LSESU Bylaws was based on a strict interpretation of the rules. For the editors who believed that the article ought to be published, the story was, in our view, accurate, fair and balanced. Moreover, we did not do so from a position of preference for either candidate. I believe that it was simply the case that this was information the student body should have been made aware of, given the serious nature of the allegations and the impending election.
It was an opportunity for The Beaver to exercise its editorial independence within our interpretation of the bylaws. Yet, the SU’s strict interpretation prevailed. The argument that this should be the case because The Beaver is accountable to the SU, as it funds the newspaper, is simply not convincing. The Beaver exists to serve Union members, not the SU. Whilst the current Gen Sec has been very fair in her control over the paper in this regard, this does not prevent the possibility of abuses by any future Gen Sec.
It is worrying for anyone who cares about The Beaver, the Union, or its students that this has opened the door to future infringements of The Beaver’s editorial independence. It is imperative that a discussion be had regarding the correct interpretation of these broad bylaws. The Beaver should not be prevented from reporting on student news of great public interest because of the SU’s restrictive interpretation of the bylaws.