The Dalhousie Student Union has shown it doesn’t care about freedom of the press, transparency or accessibility.
Dalhousie Gazette News editor Karla Renic livestreamed the Oct. 23 DSU council meeting on our Facebook page. Two weeks later, the Dalhousie Agricultural Students’ Association livestreamed the meeting that took place on Dal’s Agricultural campus. This allowed students who couldn’t be there in person to see what was happening and engage in online discussion.
On Nov. 20, the Dalhousie Student Union voted to disallow video livestreaming at its meetings with few opposing votes.
Soon after this motion was brought forward, council voted to discuss it in-camera. This means everyone in the gallery had to leave council chambers for the duration of the discussion, so we have no way of knowing what was said during that hour. However, before going in-camera, DSU President Aisha Abawajy said livestreaming makes councillors uncomfortable. “Folks don’t feel comfortable speaking when it’s plastered everywhere,” she said.
Her point is moot. If DSU executives and representatives can’t stand by the statements and decisions they’re making, then they shouldn’t be making them.
The motion, which was moved by the vice-president (Student Life) Ruby Coles, suggests livestreaming isn’t an accessibility issue. Meeting minutes are posted online and people can request a recording of a meeting if they wish, said the DSU. In my experience (as News editor last year and as editor-in-chief this year), meeting minutes often take weeks to post. As of Nov. 21, the Oct. 23 meeting minutes are still not posted on the DSU website. But even if the minutes were posted in a timely manner, they don’t have the same level of detail a full stream would. The DSU knows this, of course, its councillors just don’t care. That said, the recording bit is news to me. I’ve decided to take the DSU up on this and put in a request for the recording of the Nov. 20 meeting.
DSU meetings are open to the public, but for in-camera portions. In-camera should be reserved for legal issues and HR matters, such as hiring. As former DSU Chair Chris Abraham wrote on Twitter, the DSU used to livestream itself. By the time I was hired at the Gazette, this practice had stopped, but there was no policy against doing it. During the Nov. 20 meeting, we heard no valid reason to disallow it. It’s possible someone made a compelling argument while council was in-camera, but again, we have no way of knowing.
As someone who had a broken foot during second semester last year, I can say with certainty that a livestream would have helped me stay on top of council meetings when I couldn’t attend. This semester, our News editor essentially did the DSU’s job for them by making their meetings more accessible. The streams have also made it easier for students to hold the DSU responsible for what its councillors say and do. I suppose, in the DSU’s eyes, that’s the problem.
The Gazette is granted a levy from the DSU, so to make them angry may not be in our best interest. But enough is enough. As the editor of Dalhousie University’s student paper, I condemn this decision and call on the DSU to act in the interest of transparency, not self-interest, and reverse it. In the meantime, we’ll keep tweeting at the meetings.
Unless they pass a motion to prevent that, too