Editorial: Vertigo’s funding cut is an attack on student media and democracy

Honi Soit stands in solidarity with the Vertigo community.

Last week, UTS student publication Vertigo made the bombshell announcement that its funding had been slashed to approximately half of what was agreed at the beginning of 2022 by the UTS Students’ Association. Whilst the publication is no stranger to sudden budget changes, the most recent decision is truly unprecedented as it was demanded by UTS’ Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education and Students Shirley Alexander on behalf of the University’s Senior Executive.

Never before has Vertigo faced such a drastic reduction in funding, nor such a brazen intrusion of its independence and autonomy from the Executive.

Due to these changes, the Vertigo editorial team will not be able to deliver its annual six print editions to the general student body, with limited copies available for contributors. The rest of its editions will only be available online.

As a student publication ourselves, Honi Soit wholeheartedly and unreservedly stands in solidarity with the Vertigo editors and its community of contributors and readers. We condemn the actions of UTS’ Senior Executive in what is a shameless attack not only on student media and the student community it serves, but on democracy itself.

A unique feature of many student publications across the nation is the way in which editorial teams are chosen – via elections. Whilst this system has its own merits and limitations, the resulting teams and publications that follow take on a distinctly public character. We are not merely grassroots publications where students can cut their teeth in writing, editing, designing and producing, nor are we beholden to the organisations that fund and publish us. Our roles go beyond the professional and into the vocational. We are given a mandate; a duty. We become mouthpieces for the student community who shaped us, servants for the student body who elected us, advocates for the marginalised and underrepresented in our universities. 

We are in the midst of a crisis in our tertiary education system. We are increasingly under threat of being locked out of degrees, departments and units that were freely available to previous generations of students as a result of managerial decisions to cost-cut and corporatise our universities. Our lecturers, tutors and administrative staff are taking industrial action in record volumes for better working conditions, and indeed, learning conditions for us. It’s particularly noteworthy that Vertigo’s funding cut also comes after the NTEU UTS Branch applied for a protected action ballot, following USyd’s historic 3-day strike. Especially in times like these, student media plays a crucial role not only in keeping students informed of these issues, but actively pushing for a progressive student-centred agenda.

The effective halving of Vertigo’s budget severely reduces its ability to fulfil that mandate. It cuts away access to the resources that enable its widespread distribution to students, impeding access to information and its ability to platform student interests. Even in universities, the media plays an important watchdog function in holding the powerful to account. 

What good is a watchdog with no bite?

But the repercussions of slashing Vertigo’s funds extend beyond chipping away at student life and advocacy for student interests. Indeed, crippling a student publication’s operations via significant funding cuts has wider implications for our democracy. In Australia’s increasingly concentrated media landscape, student publications occupy a unique position on its outer fringes. 

We are not encumbered by stakeholders or corporate interests, nor are we interested in upholding the status quo of a society that we recognise is punctured by structural inequalities that privilege conservative interests. We are unapologetically bold, progressive, independent and deeply aware of our distinctive power and positionality as Australia’s future generation, which often stands in contrast to mainstream publications that purport to uphold traditional values of neutrality and ultimately serve nefarious interests. In the forum of public discourse, we provide a countercultural voice to those dominating mainstream media. Little by little, we dare to use our platforms to push the needle closer and closer to the future we envision and deserve. We play a vital role in our democracy, and reducing our operations undermine this.

In her most recent meeting with the UTS Students’ Association, Shirley Alexander, on behalf of UTS’ Senior Executive, said that Vertigo’s production quality was “too high quality” to waste SSAF fees on. 

Perhaps it should be no surprise then, that when management recognises the power of its primary watchdog and its community of future changemakers-in-training, that it would cut away its teeth.

In solidarity,
Amelia Koen, Carmeli Argana, Christian Holman, Ellie Stephenson, Fabian Robertson, Khanh Tran, Roisin Murphy, Sam Randle, Thomas Sargeant and Zara Zadro
Honi Soit Editors 2022

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