It’s a special privilege to edit a magazine. A privilege we have been honoured to receive this year, and a responsibility we have not taken lightly. In keeping with our ideal of fair and honest reportage, we have refrained from using our position to sway, influence, or endorse any particular views. However, we believe
the following is too important for us to stand idly by.
With the MSA election week come and gone, and the campus centre rid of the multi-coloured t-shirt chaos that is student politics, we wanted to discuss something you may or may not have noticed: a handful of students in purple shirts.
This year, there was a new ticket on campus, a group of independent students contesting the Lot’s Wife Office Bearer position, going up against the Goliath that is Go! (Go!liath, if you will), who have held the majority vote in the MSA for the last 11 years. With them, they brought an interesting proposition: one of student media breaking free from the hands of student politicians, and being held by experienced writers and long-standing contributors to Lot’s Wife.
A bit of background: we, the current editors, were approached by the 2015 editorial team last year to run for the position. We were deemed by them to be the best fit for the role, as all of us have been highly involved in the magazine, and experienced enough to handle the workload of running an entire publication. We were excited with the possibility ahead of us, however we were told in no uncertain terms that we had to run with a political group, the aforementioned Go!, in order to claim the position.
Naive and unaware of Go!’s history, we each paid the compulsory $75 tithe in order to run on their ticket. We donned our blue t-shirts for that one, dreaded week in semester 2, after which we managed to win the position (as the Go!-sponsored candidate has nearly every year). It was a hellish week (even toilet breaks had to be approved by the campaign manager), but we survived it, and looked forward to our upcoming year.
In 2016, we put our (figurative) blood, sweat, and (literal) tears into this magazine, establishing a community composed of Clayton and Caulfield students, and working towards achieving a cohesive and well-established framework, through which talented writers could be published, and where emerging writers could be supported.
Early into our tenure, we all almost immediately expressed that we did not want the following year’s editors to run with Go! or any political group in order to receive the office. We believed that the traditional method, ie. running with the major party, was too easily abused. Candidates with political affiliations could (and would) use the position to fight their partisan battles, and restrict publication of dissenting voices.
In the first edition of this year we published an article that spoke of a motion passed by the Monash Student Council (MSC) – in which Office Bearers and student representatives sit – over the summer, to remove the position of Finance Manager. In response to publishing this, we were told by a member of the MSA Executive that if we were to publish anything of this nature again, we had to run it by them first, as criticism of the MSA was seen as “divisive”.
With this in mind, we moved our attention to other student issues that are equally as important but were not related directly to the MSA, lest we get pulled up again. Articles that critiqued the way Monash University has responded to sexual assault on campus, issues surrounding a lack of gender-neutral toilets on campus, the need for a people of colour department within the union, the relationship Monash has with Woodside Petroleum, and the controversy over the introduction of night exams were all featured within our pages this year.
These were all issues that deserved an equal amount of attention, yet we still felt that we could not critique the MSA and student union and actions carried out from within. Throughout our time as editors, there was always the fear that the edition would be pulled from the stands or shredded and that is not something we wanted to subject our contributors to.
When election season came around again, we tried to negotiate with Go! for an independent partnership, where we could make a recommendation, and then Go! would support them as independents, as they did with the Left Action ticket for the Environment and Social Justice department. This suggestion was rejected out of hand, so we instead suggested a team that we thought Go! should run, as had happened with us.
Go! seemed amenable to this situation, until the last minute, running instead their own team, of which only two out of four having had any experience with Lot’s Wife and none with editing experience. They did this without any consultation with our team, causing them significant distress, as they had been repeatedly reassured that Go! would run with them.
Upon Go! rejecting our recommended candidates, we were faced with a choice. Given the behaviour of the Go! representatives, and our own past experiences, we had little interest in supporting their claim. So once again, we donned our shirts for election week, but this time they were purple, representing something we believed media should be: independent.
Whilst we did not win, we put up one hell of a fight, winning almost 1000 votes, a remarkable feat for a ragtag team of underdogs that formed in just over a month. Unfortunately, Go! won all positions in the union, except one that is controlled by Left Action. Due to this outcome, we have significant concerns about the transparency and accountability of the student union and the role student media should be playing in this.
There have been issues that have occurred in the past that your student publication should have been reporting widely on but weren’t. We feel this is because political factions constantly dominate Lot’s and bias and a lack of transparency become rampant.
Over the years, unprofessional and, we believe, unethical acts have been perpetrated by members of the MSA, most of whom are from Go! and many of which maintain ties and affiliations with the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Whilst it is completely fine to have your own political leanings, it is problematic when situations arise when it can interfere or influence the use of student money. In 2015, $50,000 was approved by MSC for a campaign called ‘Australia Needs a Brighter Future’, whose aims were to fight and oppose attacks towards tertiary education. The PR firm that this campaign was linked with, Essential Media Communications, has strong ties to the ALP, with several key staff members connected to the party. As reported in Honi Soit, University of Sydney’s publication, this spending was not transparent with the campaign having done next to nothing since.
In 2015, members of the executive – while campaigning for Go! – destroyed an independent student publication called Grotty. An article was published in September that critiqued the wages of staff within the MSA. Thus, 150 copies of Grotty were taken from Wholefoods and destroyed by being turned into paper chains that were then placed in offices and displayed at a Go! fundraiser. This was followed in election week by Go!campaigners throwing shredded copies of the issue over campaigners. Writers and editors of Grotty, as well as their friends, were powerless to stop their magazine from being publicly denigrated. We believe these actions displayed last year are an abhorrent example of not only a lack of respect toward students and their work, but also contempt towards independent media that critiques the union. How ‘progressive’ are members of our union if those who speak out are silenced, and silenced in such an appalling fashion?
Farrago, University of Melbourne’s student newspaper, is currently an unattainable dream for Lot’s Wife. Prospective editors are determined by a rigorous pre-selection process, where the current editors and the Media Collective, a body of students who have worked on the magazine throughout the year, vote on next year’s editors. They then run on a ticket called Independent Media during the elections and it is rarely contested, as the other tickets see the benefits of this.
The current Farrago editors believe that this transparent and fair process benefits the newspaper, “by not only providing a political grouping, but also by ensuring the most experienced members of the Media Collective at UniMelb are in charge of running Farrago and Radio Fodder”. This is certainly not always the case at Monash Clayton.
All we desire is for Lot’s to be independent of the union. The position doesn’t hold a vote on Monash Student Council and one can only assume it is because we are to be an ‘independent body’ that reports on the occurrences within the union, rather than have a vote on what occurrences actually take place. But how can we be a beacon of independence when one political group has their fingers in nearly every pie, including our own?
We have felt pressure throughout the year to not publish student’s work that has critiqued actions within the MSA, in fear of a similar response to what happened to Grotty. In fact, right now we are fearful of what will happen to the very publication you are reading. We are caught in a situation where our right to free speech is threatened to the point that we are fearful to print. Our contributors’ do not deserve any sort of action that devalues and disrespects their work. We value their art but we also value freedom of speech and we believe we should not have to compromise one in order to have the other.
The real question that should be asked here is: why are you so worried about being critiqued? What have you got to hide? You are a part of a $5 million body that is meant to be representative of the students and also possesses a large amount of student money. Your business is the student’s business.
Transparency is key; in fact it is necessary for an organisation to function healthily. And media – the fourth estate – is the body that is meant to facilitate that transparency and hold those in power to account. So why are you so scared of the media not being completely on your side?
But, to you the reader, it doesn’t have to be this way; students can have their say, they can vote differently in student elections. They can find out what is happening themselves: get involved in the union, go to MSC, see what is actually happening, participate in departments, be in the room where it happens. Think about what your union can do for you because right now it might not be doing that at all. If all else fails, follow our lead and put your name on the ballot next year.
Disclaimer: This article is no way commenting on the MSA as a whole. We are critiquing the actions of some of the student elected representatives of the union that hold Office Bearer positions.