By Alicia D’Arcy, Features Sub-Editor
Arc has refused to pass a motion to allow Tharunka to effectively report on the upcoming SRC elections, to take place in Week 12.
The Tharunka Charter, which is currently under review, governs Tharunka’s reporting on Arc Board and SRC elections.
The operative clauses disallow reporting in the four weeks leading up to the election, and Arc Marketing curates all election coverage. Such restrictions mean that Tharunka cannot meaningfully hold tickets to account throughout the election period, and that any coverage is controlled by Arc Marketing, with no journalistic or editorial oversight.
Request to Disable the Clauses
Whilst the editorial team was aware that the Charter review, submitted in July, would not be complete in time for the election, Tharunka sought to disable these relevant clauses for the election. This correspondence began on 10 August.
Dylan Lloyd, SRC Education Officer, informed Tharunka in an email on 22 August that, “The SRC last night passed a resolution unanimously recommending Arc Board allow Tharunka to report on elections this year. That means that at the next Arc Board meeting the SRC President should be submitting the SRC’s recommendation for discussion and decision at the Board.”
Tharunka followed up with Edward Bartolo, Chair of Arc Board, as to the status of the resolution.
“There will not be an opportunity to change the charter before the SRC elections in 2017, and therefore the current charter will still stand,” Mr Bartolo, who is in charge of setting the agenda for Arc’s monthly Student and Development Committee meetings, replied in an email.
This was not the nature of our request. Tharunka understands that the current Charter will govern us for the rest of the year. Accordingly, we didn’t enquire about whether Mr Bartolo would change the Charter, but rather whether he would disable specific clauses for the election period.
As Dylan Lloyd indicated in an email to Tharunka and Mr Bartolo on 24 August, there is precedent for such a decision.
“There is precedent for Arc Board suspending the disabling aspects of the Charter for specific years’ elections. In 2013, Arc Board allowed Tharunka to report on that years’ [sic] SRC elections notwithstanding the disabling clauses of the Charter.
“The SRC passed a motion in addition to the requested changed to the Charter at our meeting this week, which asked Arc Board to allow Tharunka to report on the elections this year notwithstanding the provisions of the current Charter.”
Tharunka continued to follow up with Mr Bartolo as to the progress of the motion. He ultimately answered our question, and refused our request, on 8 September.
“The Board will not be amending the charter, or disabling any clauses of the charter, in time for the election period this year.”
Mr Bartolo then refused Tharunka’s request to discuss the issue in person by attending the 12 September Student and Development Committee meeting.
When asked to explain why the SRC’s motion could not be put on the agenda of Arc’s September or October meetings, Mr Bartolo did not answer the question, but stated the Charter would be discussed in November, after the election.
“Although it is not possible to have a considered review of the charter due to the short timeline before the 2017 elections (as I’ve explained in my previous emails to Brittany [sic] and you), I want to ensure that Tharunka staff’s input is heavily considered in the next review – which will occur over the November and February SDC meetings, and being voted upon in the February Board meeting,” he said.
“I’ll be in contact with Brittney in a few weeks, it’s currently a very busy time for Board / Arc.”
What This Means
Unfortunately, Arc’s decision essentially means that Tharunka is only able to ask each ticket the same questions and publish their answers. This “coverage” is to be curated by Arc Marketing. We are unable to provide editorial commentary, ask follow-up questions or otherwise report throughout the election period.
If a ticket lies in its responses, we are unable to point this out. If a ticket engages in dodgy campaigning practices (such as intimidating voters), we are unable to report on this. In recent years, there have unfortunately been instances of both practices.
This harms the democratic legitimacy of the election because we are unable to hold tickets accountable or critically analyse their platforms. Instead, Tharunka converts from a student newspaper to an SRC advertisement: publishing prepared responses to the same questions that we cannot tailor to each ticket.
Any campaigning misconduct will not be on the record, which is problematic when the students who are involved in the SRC now may continue to be involved in politics well into the future.
It is deeply disappointing that Arc, and specifically the Chair of its Board, Mr Bartolo, was unwilling to collaborate with Tharunka to disable clauses of our Charter that are offensive to journalistic integrity.
This is not the first time we have had to deal with these clauses; earlier this year we were censored from rigorously reporting on the Arc board elections. However, this time we got the ball rolling for this well in advance of the elections, meaning that the Board had more than enough time to properly consider the motion.
Indeed, when Tharunka did reach out to ask Mr Bartolo to disable the clauses, he responded that our Managing Editor, Brittney Rigby, could “take guidance” from other Arc staff should she have “questions around the interpretation of the charter”. At no point did Ms Rigby suggest she required explanation of the Charter that this editorial team must be intimately familiar with in order to do our jobs.
Mr Bartolo has not provided proper reasons for the decision. Tharunka believes that this demonstrates an unwillingness to productively work with us to achieve an accountable and fair election.
Tharunka wholly condemns this decision to uphold the Charter’s censorship and undermine the role of student journalism. The Charter must be changed as soon as possible in order to allow for rigorous reporting on both Arc Board and SRC elections.
Section 2.8.1 of the Tharunka Charter mandates that “[a]ny material involving criticism of Arc’s services, events or staff members will not be published without providing the Chair of Arc or CEO (or delegate) with the opportunity to respond.”
Below is Arc’s response:
“The Tharunka Charter is the guiding document for the publication, dictating its operations and all editors are employed to operate under the constraints of the charter.
Extensive deliberation and consideration goes into all charter and policy changes, as was the case in the development of the current Tharunka Charter by previous boards. There was no opportunity for careful consideration of the proposed changes of the Charter before October 2017.
Arc also does not “disable” clauses of charters on the fly, as this would undermine the thorough process through which charters are developed and reviewed.
Arc has openly communicated with the Tharunka team about the opportunities to get involved in the consultation process surrounding the next review, and look forward to working with them towards the end of the year.”