This past week, it is the opinion of the Fulcrum editorial board that campus press institutions have been subject to attempted pressure tactics by members of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) executive.
On March 22, the Fulcrum received a “notice of action” from SFUO president Roméo Ahimakin, which alleges that the paper has defamed his character by publishing quotes from a statement read in a public SFUO Board of Administration (BOA) meeting. Ahimakin strongly contends that the remarks made about him at the meeting are false and defamatory. The Fulcrum’s reporting is a reflection of what the allegations were, not that they have been proven.
The Fulcrum has since obtained legal counsel that the article we wrote is protected speech under the defence of “reportage,” which has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada. The rest of our lawyer’s advice? That we were free to write a story about this notice of action, and publish it with the notice itself. And so, we have.
Public interest journalism is a cornerstone of any democratic and developed society. News organizations strive constantly to maintain an informed populace, thereby ensuring that society has the ability to hold governing bodies accountable. Repeating these allegations, made at a public meeting, allow students to know what is under deliberation at BOA meetings. In turn, this encourages public discussion of issues that are of public interest.
When the Fulcrum published an article on the March 5 BOA meeting containing the quotes in question, this was our intention. This is our intention every time we sit down to write our next story. And if our student federation is to function democratically, this must remain our intention.
In an interview with the Fulcrum, la Rotonde editor-in-chief Frédérique Mazerolle emphasized that the press is not the same as the public relations industry—and, je dois remercier ma rivale bien-aimée, because this idea is key to understanding the role of both the Fulcrum and la Rotonde on our campus.
We aren’t here to blindly celebrate our student federation. We’re here to make sure they’re representing the students who have placed their trust—and hard-earned money—into their hands. Students have the right to know what happens at the meetings of the SFUO’s BOA.
And what about la Rotonde? Last week, four SFUO executives, incoming and current, along with roughly 15 of their friends, arrived midway through the Francophone newspaper’s Annual General Meeting and allegedly attempted to gain seats on their board of directors.
When asked directly by the Fulcrum about their intentions in doing so, all three incoming SFUO executives involved have failed to respond to all our requests for comment as of this publication date.
Regardless, attempting to become involved with the governing board of an institution that functions to hold the SFUO executive accountable is not only a conflict of interest, but it completely undermines the function of the media. The optics of this scenario suggest that the SFUO wants to have more control over the media organizations that are duty-bound to report on the good, the bad, and the ugly about the federation.
Even though these two events are different, they suggest that some members of the current and incoming SFUO executive are uncomfortable with being held to account by campus media.
The Fulcrum is passionate about informing its readership, and we don’t need any thank-yous for the work we do. However, efforts to silence our coverage, and coverage by our cross-campus comrades, will only cause us to speak louder. Our first priority is, and always will be, fairly reporting news to our readers.
This is why we urge you to consider the actions of our student federation in dealing with campus media during this past week, and in the next academic year. We urge you to continue demanding truth, and we promise to continue delivering it.