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Frowback Friday: 9 take-aways from the Honi Soit debate

This coverage was prepared by Max Hall, Sam Langford, Alexandros Tsathas, Subeta Vimalarajah, Mary Ward and Naaman Zhou. They have signed a declaration of neutrality regarding this year’s SRC and Honi Soit elections.

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Here’s what you need to know. Presented vaguely in ballot order, before descending into total chaos (much like the debate itself).

1. TIME would have reported on the Jean-Claude Perrottet court case

We’ve noticed an overlap between people who did not love when this year’s Honi editorial team reported on an alleged sexual assault case from last year’s St John’s College formal, which is currently before the courts, and people who do love TIME on Facebook. However, when explicitly asked whether they would have reported that story if on the editorial team, TIME gave an unequivocal yes.

“Having people who live on campus we are well aware of the problems that exist, and we want to deal with them,” John Patrick Asimakis, of TIME, said.

In fact, TIME appeared to surprise SIN with their dedication to covering sexual assault on campus, after SIN alleged TIME’s silence on the issue in their policy statement and desire for a more “positive” Honi meant it would be forgotten.

“I think it’s a little insulting to say that SIN is the only ticket who want to include the voices of sexual assault victims,” fellow TIME candidate Bianca Farmakis said, clarifying that this was “absolutely” an issue that a TIME paper would cover and “a crime to not report on it”.

2. TIME refused to tell us who Honi “hates”

TIME are running on “an Honi that doesn’t hate you”, but at the debate they refused to explain what that precisely meant. Who do we hate? All Asimakis said was Honi is “too negative currently” before telling us we should be covering the 2016 Red Bull Campus Cricket World Final in Sri Lanka.

3. WET are now the only ticket with no members of political factions

As reported in Honi this week, following the news that WET had potentially been negotiating for a preference deal with TIME (more on that below), WET members Michael Sun and Siobhan Ryan were asked to leave Grassroots. With Grassroots members on SIN and an SLS member (and a couple of close ties to SULC) on TIME, this means WET are the only faction-free team. While SIN and TIME both proposed “conflicting off” specific editors to maintain standards of objectivity when reporting, WET’s Evie Woodforde doubled down on WET’s supposed independence.

“The problem with that strategy is the decision about what goes into the paper happens far earlier and at in a far more consultative way than, maybe, they would like to present,” Woodforde said.

4. It’s week two of this campaign, and WET are still struggling to sell themselves

In their opening remarks, WET could have been selling voters anything from a newspaper to an ACCESS card, with Landis-Hanley saying their objective was getting students “more involved in campus life”. By the end of the debate the message had shifted to the team being the only ticket who have all written for the paper, which seems like their logical selling point. Throughout, though, WET were more interested in commonality than difference, saying they’d cover sexual assault reporting just as well as SIN, and engage with non-traditional Honi readers just as well as TIME.

5. SIN would have breached the autonomy of the Women of Colour Collective to report on stacking allegations

Earlier this year, we ran an investigation into allegations that the Women of Colour Collective officebearer pre-selection had been stacked by members of Labor Right faction, Unity. This prompted some upset from members of that collective, who said the autonomy of their collective had been breached. It resulted in a consultative meeting between Honi and members of numerous collectives at which one member of SIN, Aparna Balakumar, was present.

SIN said they would also have breached the autonomy of the collective in order to run the story, with Nina Dillon Britton saying it “does no justice” to the women in the collective to not report on this. Interesting, given their policy statement literally states: “we will always respect collectives’ autonomy.”

6. SIN don’t think having 5 USU Board directors on their campaign will compromise their objectivity

Although Dillon Britton conceded that having five Board members in shirts “wasn’t perfect” for coverage of the 2017 USU Board Executive Elections, she asserted that this external experience made her team the best option for USU reporting.

Dillon Britton initially seemed to misunderstand this question, stating that the Board directors had come to their team because of their platform, and thus their platform had not been influenced by the presence of Board directors in their campaigner base. Narrowing in on reporting bias next year, she went on to say that this was why it was important her team had experience outside of stupol (“like writing for the Sydney Morning Herald and producing shows for Foxtel”), which would (somehow) negate the bias.

“[The Board directors] know we are going to be the ticket that keeps them to account… and that speaks for itself,” SIN’s Swetha Das added.

7. The preference deal situation is super murky and tbh even 24 hours after this debate we kind of don’t get it

Farmakis said she “felt a bit like Kim Kardashian” as the big drama of the debate unfolded on the subject of whether or not she and Asimakis had received phone calls from USU Board director Vanessa Song negotiating on behalf of SIN (who have always said they would never do a deal with TIME).

According to TIME, Song called them on behalf of SIN’s campaign manager Adam Torres to negotiate a preference deal last week.

After the debate, Torres told Honi SIN “never asked” Song to organise a preference deal, or even to speak with Asimakis or Farmakis, stressing that Song did not have any authority to act on their behalf.

“We asked [Song] if she knew anything about a preference deal between WET and TIME (as we wanted to do a deal with the former) and if there was anyone she knew who might know,” Torres said. “We never imagined she would (or implied that she should) negotiate with TIME on our behalf.”

This seems to be a little bit different to what Das said in response to the allegations on stage, which was, “If ever SIN has opened up a channel of communication with TIME, it was only to see if WET and TIME had done a deal.”

Two days later, and the current state of play (as articulated by performative statuses from campaign Facebook pages and the ticket managers when contacted by Honi) is that WET and TIME have done a 2-0 deal: TIME will ask their voters to put WET second, while WET will not be directing their voters’ preferences. SIN will also be asking their voters to put WET second.

8. None of these people have back-read Honi

Despite all three tickets making broad generalisations about the history of Honi (Farmakis said Honi historically has “had a type of edgy humour”, while SIN spoke to “the legacy of Honi” as a culture of activism and WET to the paper’s ability to enhance student life), none of them had read back more than three years.

When we asked the tickets to choose which editorial team of the past five years they identified most with, Asimakis disputed the quality of the question given most of the people on stage had not passed their second year. The past five years of the paper are all freely available on our website.

Inexplicably, after admitting she was a first year who had only read this year’s paper, Dillon Britton name-checked 2013’s JAM as her idols. Even more inexplicably, despite approaching this election with completely different policy platforms, all three tickets said their paper would be most like 2014’s SEX team.

9. It was really rude 🙁

The whole tone of the debate was not particularly kind (no one is their best self when sleep deprived and on an eternal Redfern Run) but here are two incidents which stood out.

When Woodforde (WET) was asked a question about her ticket’s alleged preference deal with TIME, Will Edwards (the 11th member of SIN) laughed over her. Woodforde later told Honi she was “very upset” about the incident and could “only hope he was not intending to be gendered”. “It is important to remember that his actions exist within a context where men have laughed at and over women for centuries in an attempt to silence their voices,” she added. Honi contacted Edwards about this awkward moment after the debate, who apologised “unreservedly” to Woodforde “if [he] made her feel dismissed or demeaned”.

A war of words between Asimakis and Das also went south pretty quickly. The pair were discussing an inclusion in Honi’s writeup of the Engineering Revue, during which – while standing at the bar – TIME’s Nicholas Dai made the remark, “All international students are autistic.” What ensued was identity politics on ‘roids, with Asimakis telling Das, he hoped she had a “good lawyer”, before using what will surely become one of this year’s iconic stupol lines: “You want minorities? Let me give you some minorities.”

Gooooooooodness us.