Farewell to Insanity (for now…)

Yesterday I closed the door to the media suite for the last time before the SU shuts for a lot of the summer. In ten weeks time I am going to return with a sudden realisation that this is the longest I will have spent away from the media suite since I started my involvement with Insanity Radio 103.2FM last October.

The suite is both a fantastic place and also a curse. Clocking in 10 hours a day on certain occasions, it’s not always a healthy place to spend time, particularly when spending time there ends up dragging you into helping with projects which are nothing to do with your role. One case study is that of Insanity’s involvement with E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. I cannot remember why I was there, I think I had a few meetings and some admin to sort out for the Summer Schedule, but I ended up becoming involved in an application for funding to get our members over to LA. It was a cool thing to do but definitely not what I was there for in the first place! On a related note, the outgoing Head of Marketing and his companion managed to make it over to E3, disregarding the wonderfully proof-read application, and the coverage is in full swing at http://www.insanityradio.com/e3. Sticking around in the media suite, as with any office, is probably not fantastic for your health though, with people who have been there for a long time becoming easily irritated and developing a growing affinity for the vending machine, or worse not eating at all for more than 8 hours. Whatever role you are in, please look after yourself in the office, keep hydrated and fed, and set limits for how long you stay and what you do whilst there – and this goes for all situations, within and outside student media.

A break from actively creating content for Insanity will probably be a very good thing, but that doesn’t mean that there are no shows in the next ten weeks – for a start the SU isn’t closed for all of that time and I haven’t planned my holidays around when Insanity is accessible by any means! In fact, by the magic of technology, between now and when term starts in September, there are approximately 24 hours of radio scheduled to feature my voice, on a myriad of themes from scoliosis to summer camp. Keep an eye on the Insanity Radio website to find out more about who you can hear over the summer and look out for my scoliosis special on International Scoliosis Awareness Day (25th June, 12-2pm).

March 2015: Orbital board elections

In March 2015 I was privileged to be elected as Deputy Comment Editor for the Orbital, the official magazine of Royal Holloway’s Students’ Union. It was a decision I had been considering but, according to my blog from the time, was something I had talked myself out of by the time the election came around. However, the position was called for and nobody stood so I wrote a quick speech and when they called again I ran unopposed and was duly elected to the position for the 2015/16 academic year.

This is where the board politics come in. A couple of months later the Editor resigned, which was not unusual with her being the third editor in that academic year alone, and so the Deputy Editor stepped up to the position of Editor temporarily until a bi-election was held in September to confirm her position. Holly Pyne, who had been elected Comment Editor, was co-opted as Deputy Editor, which left me as Acting Comment Editor for the summer, during which we produced five mini issues for Welcome Week to give the new students a taste of the Orbital and what to expect in university life. I dealt with running the section on my own and I was praised for getting a large amount of articles in from my section members.

However, my position was not secure as I had effectively also been co-opted and was required to be officially elected to the role of Comment Editor in an election in October 2015. In doing this, I also forfeited my role as Deputy Comment Editor, which didn’t worry me at the time because of my proven ability in the position. I hadn’t counted on the fact that the newest members of the Orbital had the ambition and ability to match my year’s experience and I was outvoted for both the role of section editor and deputy, the latter position going to the member awarded Best Journalist the previous year.

The period after the election was not a good time for me, but I refused to walk away from the Orbital and set about writing as many articles as possible and show as much commitment as would have been required from a board member. From attending socials to submitting 4 articles a month, I was certainly not slacking in my involvement! Over six months later I can now say that losing the board position is one of the best things that could have happened to me: I won Best Journalist at Societies Ball and had I continued as section editor I would have been far more likely to run for Deputy Editor, meaning that I would not be able to have as much involvement with Insanity Radio.

The moral of the experience is don’t take anything for granted and don’t dwell on failed dreams – make new ones and have fun along the way! But don’t be afraid of the repercussions that come from things not going as you hope: it is completely fine to be angry and sad and never feel like you have to suppress your emotions to be strong or look good for other people. All I can promise you is that things will be okay in the end, and you should always remember that.

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.