Featured image: David Holt under creative commons.
Last week, I visited university friends in Birmingham for a couple of days. It was one of those excursions where we didn’t really have a plan for what to do (other than to obviously meet up, and see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), so a lot of time was spent just catching up on our current lives.
Rob studies International Politics and Diplomacy at City University London. He explained that the student’s union had passed a motion at their annual meeting on November 17, titled “opposing fascism and social divisiveness in the UK media”; the motion was to ban The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Express on campus.
His argument, detailed in his blog post, is that the rhetoric of these publications have no place in modern society; the move is an “effort to change their vile tone”.
The Guardian described the move as ‘symbolic yet embarrassing’. So did most of Twitter:
— Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) November 18, 2016
ICYMI: ‘Stopping people reading at a uni is as wrong-headed as you can get.’ My blog on the City Uni paper ban.https://t.co/KwOsNSyPrg
— Paul Wiltshire (@Paulwiltshire) November 22, 2016
— Badger (@JKITFC) November 23, 2016
— Daniel Dawson (@dmdawson91) November 21, 2016
Sofia Quaglia, City Journalism student and founding member of the Student Media Society at CUL, said it was an “unrealistic motion”.
Her fellow course mate Jack Fenwick even quit the SU:
— Jack W Fenwick (@Jack_W_Fenwick) November 23, 2016
NUS London, however, tweeted their support for the motion, stating “there is no place for hate in our unions!”
Now, while I would say – in no uncertain terms – that these three publications are three which I would not choose to read, this is a monumental decision that ultimately comes down to two things.
The first is freedom of speech.
I view this as a ‘monumental decision’ because, at a first glance, the ban is acting as a censorship on what City University students can and cannot buy (and therefore read) from the campus stores. Ignoring the fact that a) they have not banned the viewing of the papers’ respective websites, nor have they banned students from buying them off-campus and therefore b) this ban is, in effect, meaningless, it is important to consider the implications of such a decision.
The second is a deeper social concept, which is really quite obvious. People read what they want to read. That’s pretty blatant. I read The Times and the ipaper. Jacky from down the road might read The Sun and only The Sun. But that doesn’t take away the fact that I know that The Sun is there should I so desire to read it, and for Jacky, that The Times and the ipaper are there for her too. Removing politically right newspapers is a form of oppression and it is exactly this oppression that fuels hatred, racial tension and gives rise to fascism in the first place.
People need to be listened to first, then challenged. No matter what their viewpoint or political stance. Being only challenged and ignored provokes hostility and prejudice.
I’ll actually bring in a third point that sits on this issue, and that is the fact that less than 200 students were involved in the passing of this motion; little over 1% of the 19,500 student population of CUL. Ironic then, that this motion was opposing social divisiveness. Interests of the minority to affect the majority. No matter how many student bodies or collective communities each of the 200 were representing, this was hardly a fair process.
Clauses in the motion, detailed by the student’s union, state that “the union resolves…to promote the active pressuring of the aforementioned media outlets to cease to fuel fascism, racial tension and hatred in society”.
Those who voted for the motion argue that the rhetoric of these publications have no place in modern society. I would certainly argue that sexism, homophobia and casual racism do not have a place in 2016. But why are these publications so appealing to over half our population?
Sofia Johansson, Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at Södertörn University in Sweden, explains in Journalism Practice that tabloid reading is a “social activity”. For many it is an “entertaining break from day-to-day struggles” and – interestingly – the stereotypical focus of tabloid press on celebrity culture brings attention to experiences of social inequality. “They resent celebrities…this connects to dissatisfaction of their own circumstances.” It aspires a “sense of affinity among readers…for ordinary people and against elitist structures in society”.
“Against the establishment”…
Aren’t these the words that certain right-wing leaders used to inspire the oppressed, silenced far-right to all pull their finger out and result in certain landmark decisions we’ve seen this year?
And – to scratch this itch further – did these certain right-wing leaders take advantage of stereotypical rhetoric seen in tabloids, or were tabloids taking advantage of the support these right-wing leaders received, by publishing stereotypical rhetoric that would resonate with “ordinary people”?
It could certainly be both.
I am fairly centre-right in my political stance but I can take a pretty leftist approach to some issues. However, banning these publications isn’t just illiberal, it’s irresponsible. As Tom Kibasi says, “cowering from the world won’t change it”.
Agree with me? Have something to add? Leave a comment below or Tweet me: @C_risJones