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7th October 2013

No More Page Three: Manchester’s big decision isn’t all it seems

Becky Montacute reveals how the decision for the Student Union to ban The Sun newspaper was really made…

The University of Manchester’s Students Union can now add itself to the growing list of university unions to ban The Sun newspaper in protest against Page 3. It’s time for a party, or at least, that’s what I’ve been told. But please wait a moment to pop the party poppers. Forty thousand students attend the University of Manchester. How many voted to ban The Sun? Eighteen. That is 0.045% of the student body (I’ll admit, I did have to use a calculator).

This tiny percentage of students were able to ban The Sun because of the use of student assemblies to pass policy in the SU. Twenty students are randomly selected (in proportion roughly to match the demographics of the university), and vote on items brought up by students. If they achieve higher than a three quarters majority, the motion passes and becomes SU policy. As few as sixteen students can think a policy is a good one for it to become actual, factual policy.

This isn’t the fault of No More Page 3, it’s just a stupid way to run a democratic union. But it is a huge loss for the campaign. A chance to engage students in why Page 3 is so damaging to women has been wasted. A referendum would have meant discussions across campus, flyers handed out, Facebook debates drowning in over one hundred comments (I mean, maybe I’m not too sad about the lack of those…) Thousands of students could have questioned why the highest circulation paper in the UK tells us that men do politics and sports, and women stand around with their pants on. That isn’t going to happen. Most students probably won’t even realise the Sun isn’t there. But at least that horrible paper buried shamefully at the bottom of the newspaper stand is gone.

It’s also an awfully bad precedent. The opinion of sixteen students can ban a publication from the SU. You might agree The Sun should have been banned, but what happens when it’s The Times for having offensively right wing comment pieces? Having a referendum makes it much less likely a small group can have massive influence within the SU. As it is, a tiny number of people can think banning The Sun is a good thing, and it just happens. At least the panel had a “short discussion” on the matter.

Even if those twenty students asked are representative demographically of the student body, they aren’t elected, they have no right to make policy for any of us. There’s no reason the ten or so women on the panel’s opinions will represent mine. This would at least be better if the Assemblies were well publicised, so dissenting voices could attend and try to convince those twenty students, but they aren’t. Exec team member’s projects such as Activist’s Academy have been publicised much more widely than the assemblies were. There’s no reason to think that any other newspaper couldn’t also be banned under this system – and that is not okay.

I suppose on the plus side of this whole debacle you have now read at least one reason, the one I managed to squeeze into this piece, as to why Page 3 is probably a bad thing. That wouldn’t have happened if both the ban and a referendum had not taken place.  But that only happened because I bothered to write this, because discussion is important, even if UMSU don’t agree. A referendum would have reached a lot more people than this opinion piece ever will and that would have been much better for No More Page 3.

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