Arc UNSW stay silent on charter review

When looking into an opaque student organisation, Zoe Stojanovic-Hill was met with a wall of silence.

The integrity of UNSW’s student newspaper, Tharunka, has yet again been called into question after Arc, UNSW’s principal student organisation, refused to reveal whether restrictive clauses of the Tharunka Charter were amended in the February charter review. Last month Arc Board was set to review clauses 2.11 and 2.12, which restrict Tharunka’s ability to report on campus elections. Arc’s pointed silence gives Honi reason to believe that the clauses have not been changed.

The charter has been a point of contention for generations of Tharunka editors because the Board has invoked these clauses to prevent Tharunka from reporting on campus elections in the four week lead-up to the election or to push the paper into publishing uneditorialised election coverage.

2.11 states that Tharunka is allowed to cover Student Representative Council (SRC) and Postgraduate Council (PGC) elections, on the condition that “election coverage [is]…curated by Arc Marketing,” which ultimately gives Arc Marketing editorial control.1 2.12 says: “Representations/images of candidates for any of the Arc elections shall not be included in Tharunka in the four weeks leading up to [the election] and shall only be included alongside Arc Marketing curated content where appropriate.”2

Last May, the 2017 editorial team clashed with the Board after the acting Returning Officer deleted an article on Board election candidates from Tharunka’s website and Facebook account.3 The editors and the Board had another disagreement last October, after the Board rejected Tharunka’s request for a temporary charter exclusion, which would have allowed the paper to report on SRC elections unencumbered.

“The charter, as an instrument, was really restrictive,” Brittney Rigby, managing editor for 2017, told Honi. “It was really difficult to report properly for the student body, trying to get around clauses that were pretty explicit in their prohibition of any sort of political reporting on campus.”

Features sub-editor Alicia D’Arcy spearheaded a challenge to the charter in late July, when she met with SRC representative Toby Walmsley to advocate for changing the problematic clauses in the upcoming review. D’Arcy said that, on the whole, Walmsley responded positively to her recommendations.

Rigby and D’Arcy do not know if the Board considered their recommendations during the recent review.

Rigby said that Bartolo sent her an email on 18 September, promising to involve her and her team in the review, which was scheduled to occur in February.

“I want to ensure that Tharunka’s staff input is heavily considered in the last [sic] review, which will occur over the November and February FDC meeting and be voted upon in the February board meeting,” Rigby quoted Bartolo’s last email.

Rigby said that Bartolo did not contact her about the review after this date. She said that she did not press the Board further because she was emotionally exhausted from “banging [her] head up the wall for weeks on end with absolutely no cooperation and no headway.”

“I just cannot be bothered to just send emails that are landing on deaf ears anymore,” Rigby said.

D’Arcy said that she did not pursue the issue because she is no longer an editor.

In mid-February, Lungol Wekina, managing editor for 2018, told Honi that the charter was currently under review but had not been finalised yet. Despite Honi’s repeated requests for an update, Wekina was unwilling to disclose any further information about the progress of the review.

After ignoring multiple emails, messages and phone calls from Honi, Bartolo said that Arc UNSW declined to comment. SRC President Zack Solomon did not respond to any of Honi’s requests for comment.4

Bartolo and Solomon are both members of National Labor Students (NLS), the left-leaning youth faction of the Labor Party.

Honi understands that stupol factions at UNSW have little political incentive to give Tharunka license to rigourously report on elections. Unlike at USyd, where the SRC Constitution and Regulations stipulate that Honi must produce a special edition of election coverage no later than nine days before the first day of polling, and candidates are generally expected to reveal what faction they are from, candidates at UNSW have been able to run without disclosing their political affiliations. Notably, D’Arcy’s May 2017 interview with Board candidates was removed from Facebook after D’Arcy posted comments highlighting each candidate’s stupol faction.

Tharunka has had a fraught relationship with Arc for years but tension peaked in 2016, after Arc ruled that editors were to be appointed by the Board rather than elected, in response to 2015 editor Brendan Byron deleting articles that were critical of his faction.

Osman Faruqi, News and Politics editor at Junkee, who edited Tharunka in 2013, said that he found Tharunka’s charter frustrating when he was an editor.

“There is no way to find out who the candidates are, what faction they come from, what their actual policies are – there is no way to filter what they are actually saying other than reading the bullshit on their Facebook pages.”

Faruqi said that any given student media organisation would benefit from establishing itself as a corporation that operates independently of its university union and SRC. In this scenario, the student media corporation would receive Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) funding directly from the university, rather than via its university union or SRC.

The ANU’s student newspaper, Woroni, pioneered this in 2011, when it cut ties with ANUSA and established itself as ANU Student Media Inc.

“The issue to me seems to be, the [SRC] pay your wages, as shit as they are, and that they are technically able to swipe your stories,” Faruqi said, in relation to both Honi and Tharunka.5

“You’re never going to be able to create an entirely distinct community of student media people from the student politics people. As much as you can structurally separate the two, that seems to make sense to me.”

1 2.11 does not specifically mention Arc Board elections.

2 Managing editor Brittney Rigby and features sub-editor Alicia D’Arcy said that the Board interpreted “representations” to mean all reporting, including publishing print and online articles.

3 Amidst the controversy that ensued, Arc allowed Tharunka to republish the article on its website but did not let Tharunka repost the article on Facebook.

4 Honi sent Bartolo and Solomon repeated emails and messages, called their office and their mobiles, and asked reception leave a note on each of their desks.

5 We can’t speak for Tharunka eds but our wages are indeed shit.