Western Gazette faces administrative review

Student union create code of ethics and advisory board following spoof issue backlash

Following controversy last month surrounding a spoof issue printed by the Gazette, the University of Western Ontario’s campus newspaper, the University Student Union, the newspaper and the administration have created a code of ethics and an advisory board that will allow the administration to review the newspaper at the end of every year.

In an April Fool’s issue on March 30 the Gazette printed a paper whose articles sparked accusations of sexism and homophobia. One of the articles in question involved a police chief taking a “wild vagina” “into a dark alley to teach it a lesson.” After a meeting with students, university officials and representatives of the city of London, including the London police, the student union and the Gazette editors, decided to implement a code of ethics for the newspaper and put together an advisory board of Gazette alumni and industry professionals whose role it will be to advise the editorial board.

Gitta Kulczycki, vice-president of resources and operations at Western, said she’s optimistic the changes will be effective in promoting ethical practices at the newspaper in the future.

“They’re really positive changes,” she said. “It will bring the Gazette to a new place in terms of how they operate and the kind of guidance they will have.”

At the end of every school year, Kulczycki, along with another vice-president at the university, will review the newspaper’s conduct to see whether it has adhered to the guidelines outlined in the code of ethics and will make a report to Western’s Board of Governors.

If the administration decides the newspaper didn’t meet the guidelines, the Board will have the power to stop collecting the organization’s $9 per student annual fee. It will also be able to suspend the Gazette’s distribution privileges. This means the newspaper would be allowed to publish online, but not in hard copy.

Kulczycki stressed that the review will evaluate how well the newspaper followed the measures they and the student council laid out, and won’t pass judgment on the editorial content Gazette editors choose to publish.

“There would be no suggestion that we want to interfere with the student voice, with their right to express opinions and disagree.”

She said university officials have a great respect for the student union and are glad to see the organization take the initiative to prevent a repeat of the incident.

“We think this is a great step forward.”

Several alumni and members of the media have already volunteered to be a part of the advisory board, she added.

Ian Van Den Hurk, editor in chief of the Gazette at the time the spoof was published, feels media coverage of the incident has been unfair, he told the Journal in an e-mail.

“I don’t mean to trivialize the feelings of those who were upset; they absolutely had every right to be. But I wish coverage had been more balanced and better expressed the other side’s opinion, or at least shown that this wasn’t a malicious attack.” He said he doesn’t think the incident has damaged the reputation of student journalists at Western or anywhere else.

“I know that everyone working at the Gazette has more than enough integrity,” he said. “Of course, like most things in life, it’s a matter of perception, and some people might disagree. … A mistake was made and we didn’t convey what we wanted to. It’s unfortunate things unraveled like they did, but the Gazette’s heart was in the right place.”

He added that he’s concerned about the implications of the measures taken by the administration.

“I think it puts the paper in a tough situation. Does the Gazette feel afraid to run anything pushing the envelope now? What if the administration disapproves of something the student body has no qualms with?”

Van Den Hurk could not give details about the contents of the code of ethics, and incoming editor-in-chief Allison Buchan-Terrell could not be reached for comment.

John Manning, AMS vice-president (operations), said the AMS has processes in place to help prevent a similar incident from happening at Queen’s.

“The Journal doesn’t have an advisory board per se, but it does have the Journal Board of Directors.”

The Board of Directors is made up of members of the Journal editorial board, the AMS, the administration, a professional expert and students at large. The board handles grievances and impeachment procedures but it has no jurisdiction over the newspaper’s editorial content.

Manning said it’s difficult to say what the specific consequences would be should a similar problem arise at the Journal.

“If it’s just a question of simply how appropriate the content was, I’m not sure anyone really knows what would happen.”

He added that the AMS is legally responsible for the Queen’s campus newspaper, and he is confident the student government would deal with the problem.

“[I hope] that it would stay a student issue and not an administration issue.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.