Where does UPSU Media stand?

Just so you know: this page was imported from my old blog. Some pages were rather mangled in the process; my apologies if things don't quite look right.

Radio 1's Newsbeat have responded on the BBC's Editors' blog over their coverage - and Radio 1's handling - of the banning and subsequent un-banning of the word "Faggot" from Fairytale Of New York, and how Newsbeat's coverage may have triggered the public backlash against the "overzealously PC" attitude of the radio station.

The interesting aspect for us at the students' union is how Newsbeat works within Radio 1, as well as the BBC's non-profit objectives which aren't entirely dissimilar to the union's.

Newsbeat operates as a news team within Radio 1 - vaguely similar, perhaps, to the way Pugwash News operates within UPSU. Newsbeat's coverage of Radio 1's censorship has been objective and arguably fair - entirely as any quality journalism should be - but the issue here is that, in effect, one part of Radio 1 has caused a backlash against another part of the same organisation for its handling of a potentially sensitive matter.

Within the editorial teams responsible for the Pugwash, Pugwash News and UPSU News output, discussions have often centred around the "what if" scenario of whether and how the Union's media should publicise a story which levels criticism against the Union. Questions have ranged from the broader "can we criticise the Union?", "should we criticise the Union?", and "if we do, how would we go about it?", to some occasionally hilarious potential (and entirely theoretical) scenarios which I obviously can't relate here without libelling myself...

Rod McKenzie, editor of Radio 1's Newsbeat, writes on the BBC Editors' blog: '[this issue] raises some interesting dilemmas for us though: without Radio 1's 10 million plus audience Newsbeat wouldn't exist. But what happens when the station itself IS the news? Does this cramp our journalistic vigour or make us feel we shouldn't take on "the mother ship”? I don't think it does - nor should it ever do so. If we argue that our job is to report the news without fair or favour for other organisations, why should Radio 1 be exempt from that rule? I think pulling our punches would be failing our listeners - Radio 1's listeners. That's just my view.'

Apologies for the lazy journalism - quoting such a large chunk of Mr McKenzie's words - but that paragraph pretty much summarises the way student media should act towards its parent institutions, at least at Portsmouth, but in the wider context of student journalism as well. Our editorial teams should never feel that can't report on something they feel is in the interest of their readers simply because their story might level criticism at the Union or the University.

The counter to this argument, of course, is that this freedom can only work as long as the student journalists maintain a professional approach. Anyone with common sense might wonder whether, on hearing about a story which might criticise them, the Union might feel compelled to "pull" - cancel - the article, preventing it from being published.

This is where we come to the grey area which I think is somewhat unique to student media: the Union should never be allowed to prevent the publication in its media of an objective, balanced and fair article which levels criticism at the Union, but it would be remiss of the Union to play little or no active role in ensuring the content produced in its student media was legally and morally acceptable.

This balancing act is a relatively new consideration for student media in Portsmouth as, until the start of this year, there has been little if any culture of news journalism at the Union, so this issue hasn't been covered before (as far as I know!).

The way the Union and its student media teams work together to judge what is and isn't ok to publish - based on whether a story is fair and balanced, and not on whether the story will make the Union look bad - will probably need a little more fine-tuning over time, but I'm confident that the foundations are well in place now, so that when Pugwash News decides to publish a story calling me all the names under the sun (and I have no doubt they will at some point... ;o), I can't pull the story just because I don't want the world to know I'm a numpty!

What it boils down to is this: unless the students of Portsmouth can be confident that UPSU Media isn't just a propaganda dissemination service for the students' union - and, no, I'm not saying it currently is - then it can never be taken seriously by the students it targets.

So much of UPSU Media is brand-new that everyone involved knows that we have a long way to go in many areas, but the one thing I'm confident of is that we have some of the best student journalists and one of the strongest voices Portsmouth has seen in many years. Let's keep it up!

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