“The SFUO does not respect student press,” says la Rotonde editor-in-chief

On Tuesday, March 21, the University of Ottawa’s independent Francophone student newspaper la Rotonde held their Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Tabaret Hall. Midway through the meeting the attendees were joined by multiple incoming and current Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) executives, who were allegedly there to obtain seats on the newspaper’s board of administration.

According to la Rotonde editor-in-chief Frédérique Mazerolle, the SFUO members in attendance at their AGM included current SFUO vice-president social and incoming president Hadi Wess, returning vice-president finance Rizki Rachiq, incoming vice-president of university affairs Axel Gaga, and outgoing vice-president of university affairs Vanessa Dorimain. Mazerolle noted that some newly elected SFUO Board of Administration (BOA) members were present as well.

“The AGM was going, and we got to the point where we had to elect our new board,” Mazerolle told the Fulcrum. “All of a sudden some exec members, current and incoming, came around with their friends, and there was about 15 of them.”

Shortly after their arrival, Mazerolle said that the SFUO executives began asking questions about whether they would be eligible for seats on the newspaper’s board.

“We just found it really problematic that they all came around, this big group of them, because we knew that the intent was, give or take, to intimidate us,” said Mazerolle.

La Rotonde’s board ultimately found that all current and incoming executives, as well as the incoming BOA members, were not eligible for board seats. According to Mazerolle, this prompted remarks by the SFUO group that this decision was “unfair.”

“One thing I think they didn’t understand about wanting to be on the board is that our board doesn’t have any right or say in what gets published in the paper,” she said.

Ultimately, two students from the group that entered the AGM with the SFUO executives were voted into open seats on the la Rotonde board. Mazerolle believes that although the newly elected board members came in with the SFUO executive, there won’t be a cause for concern unless it becomes clear that they have “external interests” to the newspaper.

Given la Rotonde’s recent conflicts with the SFUO, particularly in light of a statement made in response to the paper’s SFUO U-Pass scandal article during a March 12 BOA meeting by Wess and Dorimain, suggesting that la Rotonde should go work for Donald Trump, Mazerolle said that this latest “stunt” indicates that “the SFUO does not respect student press.”

“We are there for a reason. Any newspaper, news organizations, we’re there to act as watchdogs of our surroundings, that’s the key role of journalism. And the fact that they were there, essentially what it says is they don’t respect the role that we play on campus,” she said.

In regards to the statement relating la Rotonde to Trump’s White House press office, Dorimain told the Fulcrum that she felt there was not enough research done by la Rotonde prior to the publication of their U-Pass article.

“La Rotonde wrote a bias(ed) article with the intention to create controversy as they referred to me in my (chief returning officer) capacity during elections season and Hadi as president nominee (elect). This was done with a purpose to make the elections also look illegitimate by tainting our names as corrupt leaders.”

Mazerolle maintains that la Rotonde, before publishing their U-Pass article, had reached out to both Wess and Dorimain several times, and “also spoke with elected officials of the SFUO, sources close to the case who chose to remain anonymous for safety reasons, as well as officials of the U of O and OC Transpo.”

“Just because we don’t write articles in the name of the SFUO status quo, as we have been fully independent from the federation since 2008, does not mean we are being bias(ed),” said Mazerolle.

Despite the disagreement over this article, Dorimain said in her statement to the Fulcrum that this was not the reason that the SFUO executives showed up to the AGM. She said that she is “in the process of transitioning the incoming VP (university affairs) and encouraging that they work closely with the student newspapers next term.”

All incoming SFUO executives mentioned in the Fulcrum’s interview with Mazerolle were contacted for comment, but none of the newly elected executives have responded as of the date of this publication.

“(The AGM) does give us the feeling that next year … the communication between the SFUO and la Rotonde or even the Fulcrum, just press as a whole, might be difficult,” said Mazerolle.

“By showing up to our AGM, and trying to make this statement that they tried to make, it really didn’t fix the problem. Because, in the end, if you try to blacklist media it’s not going to fix anything.”