A non-insignificant point of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s new tuition plan is to allow post-secondary students to opt out of “non-essential” fees like campus newspapers is just another stab in the heart of a crumbling free press.
This “non-essential” fee — which was $7 per semester, per student when I was the editor at Mount Royal University’s campus paper The Reflector — allowed our staff to publish a bi-monthly edition that focused on campus issues. These stories — which included the happenings of a multi-million dollar per year student union — were not ones that were typically relevant enough for other larger publications in the City of Calgary to cover
This meant — and means all over the country including Ontario — that campus papers are often the only watchdogs of multi-million dollar entities that have the same political influences as any other government given that campus governments are elected.
It may not appear this matters to the world outside campuses, but the effect of good-governance and free press on campus stretches into the wider-world.
What do most people expect out of their government? Honest politicians that are held accountable to their choices.
What do most people expect out of the press? Journalists who hold people — particularly government — to account.
Where do many politicians learn to govern? Student government.
Where do many journalists learn to hold government to account? Student press.
The disintegration of a student press is therefore possibly the first domino signalling the end of holding the elected to account.
You may not like all or any of the narratives presented by the media, but the breakdown of government watchdogs is a dangerous development that has always been one of the first tools of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.
If you allow government — any government — complete control of the message, how can you expect them to present the truth, especially if they commit wrong-doing.
Every government — right, left, centre — will always preach about transparency and grass root choices, but when the going gets rough — transparency becomes conflicted.
There are good and bad journalists, and even good journalists make mistakes but the breakdown of the free press is not the answer to solving poor journalism.
The answer is training journalists early and on-campus to properly research techniques on how to hold government accountable.
It should be concerning to all individuals — regardless of political creed — that a government is looking to stymie free speech.
Ultimately, Ontario voters, and perhaps one day Albertan voters, need to ask themselves whether the elimination of $7 per semester, per student is really worth the catastrophic impact a defunct free press would have on our society.
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