Open letter to the NUS: Do not ban video recording at your conference

An open letter from the Honi Soit editors.

The National Union of Students is the top representative organisation of Australian undergraduate university students. Its National Conference will run from December 12-16 at Deakin University. Each attending university sends delegates elected by their student body. The University of Sydney’s seven delegates were elected at the same time as SRC councillors in September. 

Dear NUS President Sinéad Colee and 2016 delegates,

The National Union of Students (NUS) will hold its annual National Conference (NatCon) next week. If previous years are anything to go by, one of the first motions will propose a complete ban on video recording. Last year, Honi Soit wrote an open letter requesting video recording be allowed in the interests of transparency. It was ignored. The blanket ban was again instated.

A dismissive approach to transparency should not be repeated this year.

Past NUS conferences have been marred by countless controversies – allegations of assault and abuse are routine. This conference has earned a reputation for misbehaviour that surpasses all similar events. It is no coincidence that the NUS is one of the only organisations to suppress media access.

Video recording is vital to NUS because it is exceptionally difficult to attend. The NUS charges all observers hundreds of dollars. This exorbitant cost – when combined with travel, food, accommodation, and lost wages – means that virtually no student media outlets can afford to send reporters.

Perhaps most importantly, media suppression damages the reputation of the NUS and its delegates and simultaneously undermines the professionalism of student movements across the country. Disengagement from – and derision for – student politics has never been stronger. Each time the NUS condones secrecy, this derision grows. An average student would be forgiven for wondering why student politicians are hiding from the media.

A persistent argument against filming NatCon is that it discourages personal discussion of sensitive issues like mental illness and sexual assault. While those issues are important, privacy is an insufficient justification for drastically reducing NatCon’s integrity. Students deserve to hear the arguments that result in student money being spent on campaigns and remunerated positions. If those arguments require personal reflections, students should hear them.

Federal Parliament allows complete media access. Replicating this transparency is not an unattainable goal: NUS UK live-stream their conference and the ALP’s national conference is fully accessible to the media.

There is no reason for acrimony between the NUS and the media. Each year, student organisations spend hundreds of thousands of student dollars (including $91,000 from University of Sydney students) to be a member of the NUS and attend its events . The NUS could be encouraging media coverage to highlight the benefits of that investment. Allowing filming at NatCon is a vital first step. Any other action runs counter to the NUS’s goal – advancing the interests of Australian students.

Honi Soit, University of Sydney

Tharunka, UNSW

Catalyst, RMIT

Farrago, University of Melbourne

OPUS, University of Newcastle

W’SUP, Western Sydney University