by George Watkins
In a controversial move, Student Senate has turned down a motion surrounding the sale of The Sun and the Daily Star newspapers in the Union’s branch of WHSmith.
Currently the Student Union lobbies the newsagent’s manager to end the sale of the papers, after a senate motion from three years previously, deeming the outlets as promoting hate speech, but this was challenged in the first meeting of the Senate for the academic year.
A fierce debate amongst Senators, Campaign Officers and Sabbatical Officers ensued, with only the proposer and the seconder opting to defend the position verbally. 5 people voted in favour of the motion, but the arguments were nowhere near as pervasive asthey had hoped, as 21 people opposed, whilst 2 abstained.
In the motion itself, the proposer advised that students ‘can make their own decisions’. They also noted that “This starts by allowing them access to all forms of information, as opposed to restricting them to a vetted selection of sources.”
This is not the first time a students’ union has banned papers in this way. In 2016, City University of London chose to ban The Sun, Daily Mail and Express from its campus, in a motion entitled “opposing fascism and social divisiveness in the UK media”. They cited stories with Islamophobic overtones, and argued that they “all actively scapegoat the working classes they so proudly claim to represent”.
Senate saw controversy surrounding its second motion too, entitled ‘Eliminating Economic restrictions on Societies to uphold Freedom of Speech’. This was proposed in light of an upcoming speech by Dr Yaron Brook discussing whether capitalism can ‘cure’ poverty. The speech has previously been received hesitantly in other universities, due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
The motion cited an “Orwellian Code of Practice’ from the University surrounding free speech, seeing “not being offended’”as being a “higher virtue”, frustrated with booking arrangements, and security costs. None of thisappeared to strike a chord with those in attendance, however, as the vote was resoundingly defeated by 24 votes against the 2 in favour, with 2 absataining.
The proposer, Prashant Garg, received criticism from some in attendance in producing a motion to further his personal agenda, but was keen to defend his position, arguing:
“The University and the SU are using economic means to effectively ban the speaker. They suggested applying for a grant for the event, but there was no response even the day before the event. The committee is most likely going to pay for the speaker out of their own pocket for security which is not needed at all.”
The alleged ‘ban’ on the speaker refers to the demand of the motion for the Students’ Union to cover the cost of hiring the security company Showsec for a society-run event, due to a lack of funding by the society itself. Currently, the Union is not obliged to cover the costs of hosting a society-run event, hence giving socieites a budget for the year.
After both motions proposed had been soundly defeated. Mr Garg opted to leave the Senate chamber half an hour early, missing the remainder of the meeting.
As the event came to a close, a vote of no confidence was called for the Vice-Chair of the meeting, who had taken charge after the absence of the Chair. The new Women’s Officer was concerned that she had not been given sufficient time for her opinions to be given, being seconded by previous presenters of motions. However, this failed to gain any traction, and was defeated.