Ballot boxes arriving in Horsham

Blogmas 9: #EUrefSussex

You may have noticed that before the influx of posts for Blogmas, my blog has been pretty empty over the last few months. This does not mean that I haven’t done anything, maybe more the fact that I have done a LOT and have been too busy to update it with news of what has been occurring. Today I wanted to look back on the Referendum on membership of the European Union in Britain and the exciting things I did over the election night.

The EU Referendum took place on 24th June 2016, a week or so after I moved back home for the summer. I am part of the Student Publication Association Facebook group and a mild acquaintance (We’ve never actually met but I’ve heard fantastic things!) posted about opportunities to cover the election with The Argus, my local paper. I sent a speculative CV over to the contact and thought little of it but, to my surprise, got a reply asking if I was able to drive over to Horsham to cover their election count. Although I’m veering away from a career in journalism, I thought it would be a great opportunity and something I would be unlikely to get the chance to do.

On the night, my role was to live tweet the Horsham count and then write an article about the result for publication in their election special the following day. It was my first ever all-nighter and one of my first night/morning drives, but it was a great experience. As a 20 year old ‘workie’ I was the only member of the press in the press gallery and struggled to find anyone official to speak to, save the organisers of the count and a few prominent campaigners in the area.

The live tweeting of the event was my clear strength over the evening and you can relive all of the action over the night on my Twitter moment ‘#EUrefSussex – Horsham’. Getting my name and face in the local paper was pretty cool too, even if it was only 10 words of my own work – the experience definitely showed me that I don’t want to deal with the harsh, fast editorial world if I can avoid it.

EU Referendum Live – Horsham

Today the UK have gone to the polls to decide whether we should leave or remain part of the European Union, the first referendum of its kind since 1975, when the same question was posed over the EEC. Overnight, ballot papers will be sorted and counted, with results being announced from 399 counting places .    the close of polls at 10pm and 7am, when the last areas are expected to declare. The overall result will be announced from Manchester tomorrow morning.

Already billed as a historical event for the country, many national and local groups will be up all night, reflecting on the event and speculating on a result where, for once, every vote counts – the local figures are combined to create a national figure for leave and remain, rather than simply counting the result from area to area as in the General Election. I am excited to be involved in reporting the action for the Brighton Argus and I will be based at the Horsham count, helping them bring results to readers from across Sussex. I will be tweeting all night and a report of the result will be printed in Saturday’s paper.

You can follow the action on the Argus website, by following #EUrefSussex on Twitter or via my personal Twitter @escarr15.

And please, if you haven’t voted yet, go out and make your voice heard. Don’t let your indecision cause the wrong decision.

World Press Freedom Day

On my noticeboard I have a calendar that highlights certain national and international days of interest, and this morning I noticed it was World Press Freedom Day. I did not know a thing about this at the time, but I do understand the importance of the freedom of the press, so in addition to briefly explaining this important international day, I think it would be worth sharing a few thoughts on press freedom.

Set up by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, World Press Freedom Day is designed to celebrate press freedom and its fundamental principles as well as examine how free the world’s press is, defend those in media whose independence is being attacked and remember those journalists who have died in service. The specific date has been chosen to mark the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration of 1991, a statement of principles for press freedom collated by newspaper journalists from Africa, where there were many problems facing print media. The day also involves an international conference, held in a different country each year (and sometimes on a different day depending on when May 3rd falls in the week), where media professionals, organisations and agencies from the UN assess how free the world’s press is, normally associated with the theme of the conference, this year entitled ‘Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms’. Since 1997, it is also the day on which the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to defending or promoting press freedom in the face of dangerous or difficult circumstances. This year’s winner is investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who is currently imprisoned in Azerbaijan for her work as an investigative journalist. You can find out more about Khadija, the day and events surrounding it on the UNESCO website.

Student journalism has been known to be quite restricted and subject to censorship by SUs, particularly surrounding election coverage. Of course, this is by no means comparable to the intense threat to press freedom elsewhere in the world and we certainly do not end up in prison for anything that we produce. However, there are definitely steps that can be taken to make the student press more free. This year’s NUS Conference saw the passing of Motion 314, a motion described by the Student Publication Association as safeguarding “fair, accurate and vital coverage to student union elections” (You can read more on the SPA website). This looks to ensure that student media can provide content that make the incoming officers more accountable and provide fair coverage of SU elections to their readers, who are of course the sole electorate. The Huffington Post wrote a good article on this, entitled ‘We Need to Encourage Free Speech at UK Universities, Not Silence’ and I would strongly encourage reading this via the link. It must be remembered though that SUs do act in the interests of the organisation and of students: many censorship measures were in place to ensure that the media does not favour one candidate over another and the importance of a free but fair press should not be overlooked. This goes for all forms of media, not only print but broadcast media, and avoiding libel and malpractice can be as easy as educating yourself on the law and what can and can’t be said by the media, particularly during elections. I therefore want to end this post with a video produced by Jon May, the Media and Development Co-ordinator at Royal Holloway, outlining Student Media Law for the May elections and EU referendum this year.

Let’s celebrate the free press that we enjoy in the UK and strive to maintain its freedom across the world, not only on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day but at all times.