RYESAC ATTACKS FREE PRESS: CENSORSHIP

In Editorial /

It must have been gut-wrenching for RyeSAC president-elect Rebecca Rose to contain herself at last Wednesday’s athletic banquet.

It was the day The Eyeopener released its parody issue of The National Post. Rose found the satirical portrayal of The National Post’s homophobic and sexist undertones to be in itself homophobic and sexist.

She’s wrong, but more on that later. Before the banquet, she bumped into news editor Robyn Doolittle, a member of Ryerson’s figure skating team.

The two journalism students aren’t the closest of friends, but they’ve shared numerous classes and Rose’s boyfriend skates with Doolittle. Doolittle bought Rose a glass of wine and the girls chatted for about half an hour about the past year, and her upcoming presidency. Both were excited about working together next year as press and politician.

Not once did Rose mention that she found the current issue of The Eyeopener to be “poisoning” the Ryerson community. Last Friday, The Eyeopener received a letter signed by RyeSAC president Dave MacLean on behalf of the RyeSAC executive. The letter blasted The Eyeopener’s parody issue, labelling it homophobic, sexist and discriminatory.

After speaking with all of the execs, it has been confirmed Rose is the only one who feels this way. The last part of the letter asked The Eyeopener to agree to six requests, some of which included pulling advertising from the paper and threatening to hi-jack our student fees.

But by far the scariest asked that: “The editorial board (work) with the office of Discriminatoin Harassment and Prevention Services to establish guidelines for the paper’s publication” and that “a third party review be established for said guidelines.”

The Eyeopener’s reaction to the six recommendations: No chance in hell.

Here’s why: The Eyeopener has been a leading voice for local, national, and international social issues since its creation 38 years ago. RyeSAC’s demands are both insulting and offensive to a staff that has worked hard at being inclusive and progressive. Pre-publication guidelines is a dangerous precedent for any sort of governing body to impose on the press.

We’re not the only ones that feel very strongly about this.

“Free press is exactly what it is: Free,” says John Honderich, former publisher and editor of the Toronto Star. “Of course there have to be boundaries of good taste and libel. But the issue of submitting articles to some sort of political correctness police to me is quite objectionable.”

After reading The Eyeopener’s parody issue and RyeSAC’s letter of complaint, Honderich had this to say: “Parodies by their nature are spoofs and make fun of a lot of subjects and the guidelines should be very wide concerning spoofs and I found the issue to be well within the guidelines. I had no problem with any of the articles.”

That said, The Eyeopener sincerely apologizes to anyone who was offended by the paper’s annual parody issue. Editor-in-chief Joel Wass particularly took the homophobic charges to heart, as only weeks ago he ran an intimate editorial about his mother marrying her partner over the winter holidays.

The Eyeopener recieved exactly zero comments or letters regarding any offensive content prior to RyeSAC’s complaint letter. However, the following are portions of each letter we’ve recieved since the complaint– in the order in which they were sent — regarding our parody issue and RyeSAC’s reaction:

RyeSAC’s involvement with The Eyeopener is strictly as a level of government that collects student fees decided on by students in a referendum. They neither set policy nor have governing control of the publication. Perhaps this annoys them, seeing that The Eyeopener is the chief critic of the student government and its officers, and its only student-funded check or balance to SAC policies. So when not one student sends a letter, visits the office, or files a complaint with the proper authorities I have to wonder about the level of genuine outrage. Shane Dingman, National Post

The student government (when I was Editor-in-Chief) knew then what it should know now: Freedom of the press, the freedom to have an opinion and express it, shouldn’t be obstructed. It shouldn’t be censored. Did RyeSAC’s leadership at the time agree with everything we printed? Hell no. But instead of threats to pull our funding, the past government respected the student press and its position in the school. Rob Granatstein, Toronto Sun

I should not be writing about freedom of speech. I should be writing about the sanitized nature of discourse and, as a result, the lack of intelligent debate on campus. It is a sad day when in a university that words are digested at face value without the proper scrutiny of their meaning. If a student government can so woefully mistaken a parody aimed at another newspaper for hate aimed at a community, then that government surely has become a parody of good government. Oh, yes, in this case, the satire is particularly biting. Kenny Yum, Globe and Mail

So once again the earnest and humourless politicians at RyeSAC wish to rein in The Eyeopener’s independence. Once again we hear phrases tossed about such as “inclusiveness,” and “gender inequality” and most interesting of all, “phallocentric” (which my spell check does not recognise but then maybe my laptop is racist). This year’s parody issue was perhaps not the wittiest or funniest ever. That is beside the point. The point is that a newspaper has the right to be published without fear of censorship. The staff of The Eyeopener should not be bullied by a self-righteous student union. RyeSAC’s demand to erase all evidence of the parody issue’s existence and staff to undergo sensitivity training is an exercise in thought control straight out of a George Orwell novel. Your precious concerns about the content of a student publication trivialize deep and real inequalities in this world for women who are sold into slavery or homosexuals killed by having walls toppled on them because of their sexual preference. I suggest the idealists at RyeSAC start by putting the parody issue into perspective. Hamida Ghafour, International Reporter

I have to admit you guys were, at times, spot on with your parody issue. Sadly, everyone at the National Post also feels the same way, so I don’t know if I really should be thanking you or adding my name to the petition of those who want to shut you down. Just kidding. Michael Traikos, National Post

Enjoyed your parody of the National Post. You were a touch more crass than the Post, but hyperbole is a requirement in satire. Best entry, I thought, was the send-up of the conservative writer whose knowledge of gay life focused his puerile fantasies about lesbian lovemaking. The only thing funnier has to be those kooky kids at RyeSAC pretending that they didn’t understand that the Post-Mortem was a parody, the entire point of which was to skewer homophobia, xenophobia and sexism. Those guys and girls crack me up! Ann Rauhala, Stream Director, Ryerson School of Journalism

Although I realize the (parody) issue was intended as a joke, The Eyeopener has gone way too far. The comments about women, gays and religion were absolutely digusting, had no informational or satirical value and were harmful to the groups denigrated. It felt as if the writers were wilfully inciting hatred, hiding their true sexist and homophobic sentiments behind the guise of “parody.” The groups of people abused in the issue are already vulnerable to attack and discrimination. We are trying to BUILD the reputation of the school, as well as a stronger sense of community, both of which this issue has damaged. Annie Lau, 3rd year, Business Management

After reading every item in that parody, I was unable to find any evidence of the “nauseatingly derogatory and discriminatory, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, heterosexist and phallocentric” stories RyeSAC accuses The Eyeopener of producing. I did, however, find that RyeSAC showed a dismaying lack of understanding of the difference between a parody — which is a legitimate form of commentary that is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — and a joke. In this case, that parody was clearly aimed at the National Post — not “members of Ryerson’s community.” Saleem Khan, Chairman, Canadian Association of Journalists

The annual parody edition of The Eyeopener is, I think, intended to satirise the most egregious qualities of its subject. As someone who teaches about the Politics of Sexual Diversity, I applaud any effort to expose and ridicule the qualities targeted by The Eyeopener. It troubles me to realise that the leaders of Ryerson’s student government are apparently unable to distinguish between an edition that was clearly intended to ridicule a major daily newspaper for ITS qualities, and something that is circulated as the views of The Eyeopener. It is surely not too much to expect an educated population (and surely, the Ryerson community qualifies on that count) to distinguish between the two. Thus, claims that the March 30 edition was “poisoning our community with nauseatingly derogatory and discriminatory, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, heterosexist and phallocentric comments” are over-stated and puerile. In fact, an “inclusive positive learning environment” should still have room for the use of satire and parody as devices with which to make an important point. I must note, parenthetically, that the actual SUBJECT of this parody is available all over campus free of charge … with nary a word of protest from the self-appointed guardians at RyeSAC. RyeSAC should take a lesson from any of several failed dictators and realise that trying to threaten and bully the “free press” rarely works in the long run. RyeSAC is to be commended for its efforts to build an “inclusive community,” but my community includes those with a sense of humour. – Neil Thomlinson, Politics and Public Administration Professor, Ryerson University

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