Manipulating the Fourth Estate

Playing politics is unacceptable when it comes to manipulating the media, write the Honi Soit editors.

If your task is to monitor power and hold its exercise to account, you probably shouldn’t get too cosy with the powerful. Yet it happens all the time. Journalists publish unattributed quotes that their backbencher buddy ‘leaked’ them (Peter Hartcher, we’re looking at you mate), and editors turn newspapers into the pamphlets of political parties.

Politicians will always court the press because power seeks avenues to express itself and mechanisms to increase itself. And when successful, politicians turn the fourth estate into a vehicle for the second. This should be guarded against, on this campus as on the national stage.

Every year, elections are held to edit this paper. Polling occurs on the same day for Honi as it does for SRC, and that has historically led to collaboration between this university’s journalists and its politicians. Not ideal, and despite the best efforts of last year’s Council, not changing any time soon.

Just a week after polls closed last year, SRC councillors (even the reliably intransigent Socialist Alternative) passed a motion that prohibited the production of material by an SRC campaign that promotes an Honi ticket, and vice versa. This year, the Returning Officer Paulene Graham has interpreted that motion in its spirit and not in its letter: Honi campaigns and SRC campaigns should be as separate as they possibly can be. She ruled that cross-promotion of any kind – written on how-to-votes or spoken to voters – is not allowed in the forthcoming election.

But rules are for plebs, decided Unity, and ran roughshod over the new regulations by helping to construct a Honi ticket for a clear political purpose. Unleashed in the upcoming campaign, they hope that this Honi ticket, ‘Swag’, will give its rival, ‘Heist’, enough competition to effectively draw support away from the Grassroots and Switch SRC campaigns – to make it easier for Stand Up! to win the SRC election.

Honi teams should be built on the vision and talent of student writers, journalists, comedians, designers and tech-heads – not of hacks. We know that Honi tickets have to be constructed for both the year-long task of editing the oldest weekly student newspaper in the country and the two-week election campaign. The balance should always be struck in favour of the first criteria.

But Unity was only interested in the latter. And while it seems likely that their opponents, Heist, will now be aligned with Grassroots and Switch, the difference here is that Heist was built with next year in mind, not just the next month.