UWE Bristol ‘democracy’: Complaint about chairing of UWESU’s 18 February Student Council

Dear Mr Boyes,

This complaint (according to the Students’ Union Bye-Laws 9) addresses breaches to the Students’ Union democratic process during UWESU’s Student Council on 18 February 2014. A more comprehensive report was published, highlighting other possible irregularities in the democratic process: https://network23.org/benoit/2014/02/24/uwe-bristol-democracy-report-uwesu-student-council-18-february-2014/. This complaint, however, focuses on the chairing process of that meeting (ref UWESU/2014/4).

On 18 February, I participated to UWESU’s Student Council as a “Non Voting Member” (paragraph 3.1 of UWESU’s Bye Law 8. Student Government: http://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/constitution/bye-laws/#Law8). I was holding a motion of no confidence against the chair as well as two motions that I was unable to present at the Students’ Union AGM in November 2013.

The Student Council immediately started with the motion of no confidence. As the holder of this motion, I argued a conflict of interest between Kaytie McFadden’s roles as UWESU chair of meetings and as Editor of the WesternEye. Kaytie McFadden was then the first person to speak against the motion of no confidence. She was not replaced as Chair for that part of the meeting, she did not explicitly step down of her role as Chair and no-one else highlighted a possible change of role. No process was clarified or established for allowing the Chair to speak. Accordingly, we thus had a de facto situation where the Chair formally decided that she was entitled to speak, and where the Chair also formally decided that she would be the first person to speak.

Hannah Khan, VP Societies and Communication, spoke against the motion of no confidence. Her main argument was that the Chair does not get to vote during UWESU meetings. However, according to UWESU Bye-Laws 8 (http://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/constitution/bye-laws/#Law8) point 3., and UWESU Bye-Laws 4 (http://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/constitution/bye-laws/#Law4) point 2.4, the Chair gets the casting vote at Student Councils. Hannah Khan’s false claim was not corrected by anyone, including the Chair, even though it is the Chair’s duty to know statutory democratic procedures for running meetings, and her responsibility to safeguard such rules.  It was obviously in Kaytie McFadden’s interest for Hannah Khan’s argument not to be publicly voided just before the vote.

Neither the Chair nor anyone else read the “resolve” part of the motion of no confidence before the vote, contrary to the way all the other motions were handled by the Chair later on, during the same meeting. Moreover, the text of the motion of no confidence was not displayed on the main meeting screen, nor was it printed and distributed to members of the Student Council, unlike all the other motions that were discussed at that meeting, and even though the text of the meeting of no confidence was sent to UWESU as promptly as possible, and sufficiently in advance.

After the motion of no confidence and reports, Nerys Neath reminded the Chair of Benoit Dutilleul’s request to speak to the Council just before moving to the motions part of the meeting. The Chair then immediately asked members to vote and two members voted in favor. One member of the Council then asked if the Student Council could hear what the speech was about before making a decision. The Chair asked Benoit Dutilleul to justify the speech “very quickly”. Benoit Dutilleul spoke and then stopped speaking because he was interrupted by the Chair. He was given less than twenty seconds to make his point even though his statement included keywords such as: “UWE and UWESU’s duty of care towards students”, “freedom of expression”, “right to protest”, “academic values”, “intimidation, repression and criminalisation of politically active students”, “UWE involvement” and “systematic obstruction from UWESU”.

After this twenty-second intervention, Benoit Dutilleul’s request to speak was again put to the vote and seven people voted in favor of hearing him. However, there was no majority so the Chair moved the request to the last part on the agenda (“Any other Business”). Benoit Dutilleul withdrew his two motions in part to encourage members of the council to stay until his speech. However, when the meeting reached “Any other Business” (around 9pm), the Chair proceeded with a request by Tom Renhard, current VP Community and Welfare, to put again Benoit Dutilleul’s request to speak to the vote. In other words, the Chair approved a request to vote on whether Benoit Dutilleul should be allowed to speak to the Council at all.

Benoit Dutilleul was also ignored, and then explicitly not allowed, by the Chair to take part in discussions about the motions on the argument that he was an observer of the Student Council. Whilst there is a statutory basis for Non Voting Members not to vote (Bye Law 8), there is no regulatory basis to prevent such members from taking part in debates or from asking questions of clarification. Furthermore, the Chair obstructed a request by Benoit Dutilleul to ask a question about a report by UWESU President and was allowed to speak by permission of the UWESU President. Contradicting the narrow position of the Chair, basically stifling UWESU members who are not members of the Council, as well as UWESU’s commitment to encourage membership participation, UWESU’s 31/7/2013 financial report states that “The Union has a Student Council that is the main regular mechanism for members to make their views known to the Union.”

Requested corrective actions:

  • Immediately and publicly remove Kaytie McFadden as UWESU Chair of Meetings.
  • Hannah Khan to issue a public statement apologising for using a false and misleading argument before UWESU’s Student Council and acknowledging that this probably affected the vote, given her credibility on such matters and since this was her main argument.
  • Tom Renhard to issue a statement clarifying his reasons for requesting the Chair to have Student Council members vote on whether Benoit Dutilleul should be allowed to speak at all.
  • Publish the preliminary report I emailed Duncan Stokes highlighting the above-mentioned, as well as possible other, democratic issues with the 18 February 2014 Student Council as an appendix to the minutes of that meeting.
  • Perform an independent review of UWESU’s 18 February Student Council meeting  and of existing meeting procedures to determine responsibilities (especially those of Nerys Neath, who intervened several times on procedural grounds but also collaborated to the above-mentioned situation) as well as corrective action needed for such issues not to emerge again within meetings of the Students’ Union.
  • Publish the results of this independent review on UWESU’s website, and encourage UWE students to engage with its results by email.
  • Confirm that non voting students are allowed to participate to the debates and ask questions of clarification during all UWESU meetings where they are admitted as observers in coherence, especially, with the union’s claims to widen participation (or provide statutory basis for not allowing UWESU members to speak at such meetings).

Yours sincerely,

Benoit Dutilleul

UWE Bristol ‘democracy’: Complaint about UWESU’s lack of accountability and possible breaches of the democratic process regarding new vision, mission and values

Dear Mr Boyes,

This is a formal complaint to UWESU according to the Students’ Union Bye-Laws 9. It addresses the Students’ Union lack of accountability and possible breaches of the democratic process regarding UWESU’s new stated vision, mission and values (ref UWESU/2014/3).

More specifically, while UWESU’s website makes grandiose claims to accountability and democracy such as “Your elected President, Vice Presidents, and voluntary officers amplify our core values as well as championing democracy, accountability and representation” (https://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/), UWESU recently published documents exhibiting a radical change in vision, mission and values without giving an account nor a justification of such changes to the student body.

UWESU’s Strategic Plan 2007-2010 (http://www.uwesu.org/pageassets/union/aboutuwesu/missionvaluesstrategy/UWESU_Plan_2007.pdf) states the following:

  • UWESU’s mission: Enhancing the Student Experience,
  • UWESU’s values: (1) Honesty: Being open and accountable with all stakeholders, (2) Diversity: Enjoying, celebrating and encouraging the differences in all of us, (3) Respect: Respecting all people and ideas, listening and putting people at the centre, (4) Trust: Doing what we say we will and expecting the same from others, (5) Ambition: Desire to see successful development and improvement.

UWESU’s Strategic Plan 2010-2013 (http://www.uwesu.org/pageassets/union/aboutuwesu/missionvaluesstrategy/UWESU-Strategic-Plan-2010-to-2013.pdf) states the following:

  • UWESU’s vision: UWESU shall nurture and encourage membership involvement by continuously looking at different participation opportunities
  • UWESU’s mission: Enhancing the Student Experience
  • UWESU’s values: (1) Ambition: Desire to see successful development and improvement, (2) Diversity: Enjoying, celebrating and encouraging the differences in all of us, (3) Respect: Respecting all people and ideas, listening and putting people at the centre, (4) Honesty: Being open and accountable with all stakeholders, (5) Trust: Doing what we say we will and expecting the same from others.

UWESU’s Strategic Plan 2013-2017 (http://www.uwesu.org/pageassets/union/aboutuwesu/missionvaluesstrategy/UWESU-Stretegic-plan-2013-to-2017.pdf) states:

  • UWESU’s vision: We will be recognised as a leading students’ union that all our students are proud of.
  • UWESU’s mission: Making a difference to students’ lives
  • UWESU’s values: Student-led, inclusive, Creative & fun, Open to change, Relentlessly ambitious

UWESU’s Impact Report 2012/2013 (https://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/impactreport/) issued in February 2014 states the following:

  • UWESU’s mission: Making a difference to students’ lives
  • UWESU’s vision: We will be recognised as a leading Students’ Union that all our students are proud of.
  • UWESU’s values: Student led, creative and fun, relentlessly ambitious, open to change and inclusive.

Furthermore, UWESU’s 2012/2013 impact report states, page 2, that those are UWESU’s “new values”.

As a first immediate corrective action, please publish a webpage including:

  • a detailed  account of the change process with reference and links to the minutes where these changes were discussed and decided,
  • a justification of why the previous vision, mission and values were discarded,
  • a justification of the new vision, mission and values,
  • an explanation as to why those far-reaching changes in UWESU’s strategy were not broadly publicised to the student body.

Yours sincerely,

Benoit Dutilleul

 

UWE Bristol ‘democracy’: Report and statement regarding UWESU’s 18 February Student Council

On 18 February, I participated to UWESU’s Student Council to present a motion of no confidence against the Chair of Meetings and because I held two motions which I was unable to present at the AGM for reasons which I believe to be related to a broad ongoing democratic crisis within UWESU.

I believe there were breaches to the democratic process in the preparation of, and within, that meeting and as a first documentation of these problems, I have put together the following statement and requested it to be included in UWESU’s minutes:

  • Benoit Dutilleul did not receive any comments nor answers to his email requests, nor to the voicemail message he left to Duncan Stokes on the day at 16:30, about the Student Council meeting and its procedures.
  • Nerys Neath told Benoit Dutilleul that his requests would be considered “at the beginning of the meeting” when he signed up as an observer of the Student Council.
  • Besides Kaytie McFadden, Editor of the WesternEye, who was acting in a different capacity (UWESU Chair of Meetings), no journalist from the WesternEye was present to observe the Student Council.
  • Benoit Dutilleul’s request to hold a speech was dealt with after the procedural motion of no confidence against the Chair and the reports, without consultation with him.
  • The text of the motion of no confidence was not displayed on the screen nor was it printed and distributed to members of the Student Council, unlike all the other motions that were discussed at the meeting, and even though the text was sent to UWESU sufficiently in advance.
  • Kaytie McFadden was the first person to speak against the motion of no confidence. She was not replaced as Chair for that part of the meeting, she did not explicitly step down of her role as Chair and no-one else highlighted a possible change of role. We thus have a problematic situation where the Chair decided that she was entitled to speak against a motion of no confidence targetting her, and where the Chair decided that she would be the first person to speak after the motion was presented by me, which was precisely the motivation for the motion.
  • Hannah Khan, VP Societies and Communication, spoke against the motion of no confidence. Her main argument was that the Chair does not get to vote during UWESU meetings.
  • Carly Channell spoke in support of the motion of no confidence. One of her arguments was that even though the Chair of Meetings does not get to vote, she has a lot of influence over the democratic process.
  • Neither the Chair nor anyone else read the “resolve” part of the motion of no confidence before the vote, contrary to the way all the other motions were handled by the Chair later on, during the same meeting.
  • After the procedural motion was dealt with, the Student Meeting proceeded to address a number of reports.
  • Nerys Neath reminded the Chair of Benoit Dutilleul’s request to speak to the Council just before moving to the motions part of the meeting. The Chair then immediately asked members to vote and two members voted in favor.
  • One member of the Council then asked if the Student Council could hear what the speech was about before making a decision. The Chair asked Benoit Dutilleul to justify the speech “very quickly”. Benoit Dutilleul spoke and then stopped speaking because he was interrupted by the Chair. He was given less than twenty seconds to make his point.
  • This very brief intervention included the following keywords: “UWE and UWESU’s duty of care towards students”, “freedom of expression”, “right to protest”, “academic values”, “intimidation, repression and criminalisation of politically active students”, “UWE involvement” and “systematic obstruction from UWESU”.
  • After this twenty-second intervention, Benoit Dutilleul’s request to speak was again put to the vote and seven people voted in favor of hearing him. However, there was no majority so the Chair moved the request to the last part on the agenda (“Any other Business”).
  • When the meeting reached “Any other Business” (around 9pm), the Chair invited Benoit Dutilleul to speak to the Council.
  • At that point, Tom Renhard asked the Chair to put again Benoit Dutilleul’s request to speak to the vote. Contrary to the first vote about the speech, which was about whether Benoit Dutilleul would be allowed to speak before the motions, this was request to vote on whether Benoit should be allowed to speak at all to the Council.
  • The Chair put Tom Renhard’s request to the vote and a large majority voted in favor of Benoit Dutilleul speaking.
  • Benoit Dutilleul made a speech that lasted about 10mn. The speech concluded with a request to Student Council members to support him as well as other student activists who are currently trying to hold UWE and UWESU accountable for their actions during and following the “UWE arms fair” as well as ongoing democratic issues.
  • The speech was followed by some questions, answers and comments, some of which are listed below.
  • Charlie Roper said that UWESU officers could not comment on those issues because a complaint had been filed about this.
  • Megan Edmunds said that we should all work together and said that UWESU should support student activists.
  • Benoit Dutilleul stressed that the complaints he has filed focused on narrow aspects and limited facets of the problem, and that there is currently no complaint covering the breadth of the issues he spoke about, nor about the most serious issues involved.
  • Benoit Dutilleul stressed that the two complaints he has filed were only submitted a few days ago and that UWESU had taken no action until the complaints were filed, despite several request by himself and other students he is aware of.
  • Benoit Dutilleul highlighted that UWESU relayed no information whatsoever about the protests of UWE students against the ‘UWE arms fair’. Moreover, UWESU and the WesternEye relayed no information whatsoever about the issues raised by UWE student activists about the way UWE and UWESU related to the protests or about the policing.
  • Benoit Dutilleul stressed that UWESU’s silencing was again demonstrated at the Student Council meeting, where the officers’ reports did not mention anything about the 20 November protests by UWE students (all UWESU members), even though UWESU claims that it welcomes, encourages and strives to further participation from its members, and even though the reasons for protesting were strongly articulated with students’ interests and sustainability, an ongoing campaign of UWESU.
  • Benoit Dutilleul was ignored, and then explicitly not allowed, by the Chair to take part in discussions about the motions on the argument that he was an observer of the Student Council. He was only allowed to ask a question about a report by UWESU President by permission of the UWESU President.

I also withdrew my two motions (Magna Charta Universitatum and Students’ Interests) and requested, during the meeting, the following statement to be included in the minutes:

“The motion holder withdrew his motion for two reasons and publicly requested those reasons to be included in the minutes. Firstly, he claimed possible breaches of the democratic process. He highlighted that his request to speak to the Student Council on issues that he judged more fundamental and urgent than all the other issues on the agenda was voted down, and that the Chair gave him less than twenty seconds to present them to the Council before the vote, only after a member of the Council requested the Chair to hear him say what this was about. He claimed UWE students do not have sufficient information to take action about ongoing democratic crises within UWE and UWESU. Presenting the motions would have been a tacit admission that the democratic process was safeguarded. In relation to the vote of the motion, he claimed that this lack of information would also affect the ability of Student Council members to make an informed judgement and a decision about the relevance and importance of the motion. Secondly, based on the tiredness of the audience and since several members had already left the Council, he decided to withdraw both of his motions to increase his chances of still having an audience for his speech at the end of the meeting, and to encourage Student Council members to stay until the very end for the speech.”

To be continued…

UWE Bristol ‘democracy’: Complaint stemming from Kaytie McFadden’s conflict of interest (Editor of the WesternEye and UWESU’s Chair of Meetings)

A. Approach and justification

This document is related to broader investigations about ongoing democratic crises within UWE, UWESU and WesternEye. It serves the following purposes:

  1. It is a medium for providing an early documentation of these crises to a wider audience, particularly UWE students.
  2. Through the complaints, it a way of formalising requests for accountability that have, so far, been met with systematic escapism and/or obstruction by UWESU and WesternEye.
  3. These requests are a mean to provide data that will then feed into wider ongoing investigations.

B. Focus of the complaint and argument for the joint complaint

The complaint stems from issues surrounding Kaytie McFadden, who embodies a conflict of interests by cumulating a political role (UWESU Chair of Meetings) and a related editorial/journalistic role (WesternEye Editor). However, this not only or even primarily a complaint about Kaytie McFadden, nor it is only a complaint only about the conflict of interest arising from her having two positions with partly incompatible and contradicting interests.

This document articulates a triple complaint about:

  1. Kaytie McFadden in her editorial, journalistic and chairing capacities,
  2. UWE Students’ Union (hereafter ‘UWESU’) that allowed such democratic issues to arise and then obstructed legitimate efforts to highlight the conflict of interest and related problems arising within political/representative processes.
  3. UWE’s student newspaper (hereafter ‘WesternEye’) that allowed such democratic issues to arise and then obstructed legitimate efforts to highlight the conflict of interest and related problems arising within media processes.

This complaint is jointly submitted to UWESU and the WesternEye for the following reasons:

  1. The conflict of interest relates to roles in each organisation. This joint complaint is simply the procedural reflection of the alleged conflict of interest.
  2. Both organisations have distinct democratic functions influencing each other.
  3. Kaytie McFadden’s actions in one role within one organisation may have influenced her actions in another role, and vice-versa.

UWE’s involvement is justified because under the Education Act 1994, the institution so-called ‘University of the West of England’ has a statutory duty to ensure that the Students’ Union operates in a fair and democratic manner.

UWE complaints will be kept informed about the complaints to UWESU and the WesternEye, as well as their outcomes. A UWE complaint may then be filed depending on the outcomes of the complaints with UWESU and WesternEye.

C. Bases for the complaint

C1. Powers and influence of the UWESU Chair of Meetings

  1. “The position of Chair of Meetings acts as Chair to Student Council and General Union meetings (EGM and AGM)” (Bye Law 4: Meeting Rules, 2.2, http://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/constitution/bye-laws/#law4)
  2. “Student Council will be the highest decision making body in considering issues that affect all students” (Bye Law 8. Student Government, 3.:  http://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/constitution/bye-laws/#law3)
  3. “Student Council meets 3 times a year, with the first meeting acting as the Annual General Meeting for the Students’ Union. Student Council is the highest decision making body in considering issues that affect all students.” (http://www.uwesu.org/representation/committees/student-council/)
  4. The Chair of Meetings shall have the casting vote in both the Student Council (Bye Law 8. Student Government, 3.: http://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/constitution/bye-laws/#law8) and AGMs/EGMs (Bye Law 4: Meeting Rules, 2.4: http://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/constitution/bye-laws/#law4).
  5. Synthesis: by definition of the role, UWESU’s chair of meetings individually holds considerable power and influence over the process of UWESU’s most important meetings. S/he also holds considerable decision-making power in improbable, rare yet crucial cases since s/he gets the casting vote.

C2. Powers and influence of the WesternEye Editor

  1. “Editorial decisions shall remain the responsibility of the Editor. The individual Board members can advise and give feedback prior to the publishing of content, but the decision to publish will be made by the Editor or at a meeting of the Editorial Board.” (WesternEye’s terms of reference, E.1: http://www.uwesu.org/pageassets/representation/agm/Draft-Western-Eye-Terms-of-Reference-ver2ndNov2012-2.pdf)
  2. In an interview Kaytie McFadden gave as Editor of the WesternEye, she said: “we print what we think is relevant to students and that is down to the decisions of, you know, whoever is the editor at the time” (Bristol Life, 27 Feb 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luqfpCA_NhE).
  3. Besides the student newspaper, Kaytie McFadden also controls the WesternEye mailing list.
  4. Both the newspaper and the mailing list may be used, possibly selectively, to promote certain political decision-making processes.
  5. On 10 March 2014, Kaytie McFadden encouraged readers of the WesternEye’s mailing list to vote for a UWESU “referendum on boycotting of Israeli goods” in relation to an erratum about a possible inaccuracy in an article about the referendum.
  6. Synthesis: both in theory and in practice, according to current operational procedures within the WesternEye, the Editor individually concentrates editorial decision-making power and has considerable outreach through the WesternEye’s mailing list.

C.3. Democratic principle of the separation of powers and media

  1. The separation of powers is a key democratic principle since antiquity and theorised by John Locke and Montesquieu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_powers).
  2. Besides the classical triad of legislative, executive and judiciary powers, media is nowadays recognised as a ‘fourth power’ that should be kept separate from other powers (if you are unfamiliar with those principles, read for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_media or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Estate).
  3. UWESU claims that “We exist to represent you and champion your views, concerns and ideas at UWE” and that “Your elected President, Vice Presidents, and voluntary officers amplify our core values as well as championing democracy, accountability and representation. ” (About UWESU).
  4. Translated at UWE-level, the WesternEye is a media power and UWESU is a political power. Moreover, within UWE’s student democracy, the WesternEye is the media power and UWESU is the political power.
  5. When individuals cumulate political and media roles not only do they breach the democratic principle of the separation of powers, but they become unable to perform responsibly roles within distinct powers and may even use the influence arising from one of their roles to prevent being held accountable in the other role, and vice-versa.
  6. The fundamental interrelation between student media and institutionalised student politics arises from the fact that decision-making arises from information.
  7. This fundamental relationship was recognised by Kaytie McFadden as Editor of the WesternEye. On 10 March 2014, Kaytie McFadden published an erratum about the article entitled “UWESU board of trustees call for referendum on boycotting of Israeli goods” printed in the last issue of the WesternEye and removed from the student newspaper website. In that email, Kaytie McFadden stated that “there may be an inaccuracy” that was “unfortunately not picked up during fact-checking”, before encouraging her addressees to vote for the referendum.

C.4. Independence of media

  1. The principle of independence is strongly asserted on the newspaper’s website. The WesternEye claims to be “UWE’s totally independent student newspaper” (WesternEye’s About page, http://www.westerneye.net/about/, emphasis added).
  2. This principle of independence is also asserted in the WesternEye’s Terms of Reference: “A.1 Western Eye (…) shall be an editorially independent student paper supported by UWE Students’ Union for the benefit of all students at UWE” (http://www.uwesu.org/pageassets/representation/agm/Draft-Western-Eye-Terms-of-Reference-ver2ndNov2012-2.pdf, emphasis added).
  3. In an interview she gave as Editor of the student newspaper, Kaytie McFadden claimed to be committed to the WesternEye’s independence: “I think we are really important for students because we give like, we are an independent student voice, we’re not controlled by the Students’ Union” and she further claimed that what is most important is “our tagline: UWE’s independent student voice” (Bristol Life, 27 February 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luqfpCA_NhE, emphasis added).
  4. While Kaytie McFadden successfully carried a motion to consolidate the financial independence of the WesternEye at the 2013/2014 AGM (https://www.uwesu.org/pageassets/representation/agm/agm-docs/motionsbooklet-1314.pdf), the independence of the WesternEye also requires the formal separation of media (WesternEye) from political power (UWESU). Such a formal separation prevents an individual from cumulating a position within media (WesternEye) and political (UWESU) powers.
  5. However, such a formal separation of political and media powers still does not guarantee that a democratic process is in place. The proximity of journalists/editors with politicians may be necessary for the former to perform their work (especially to work towards political accountability)  but proximity that becomes connivance represents a breach of independence.

C.4. Editorial and journalistic duties

  1. “The responsibility of editors is to act in the interests of this Union’s membership as a whole” (AGM Motion entitled ‘Maintain the Integrity of Student Media’).
  2. “The duty of editors is to uphold the standards of professional journalism as outlined in the codes of conduct of the National Union of Journalists, Press Complaints Commission and Ofcom” (AGM Motion entitled ‘Maintain the Integrity of Student Media’).
  3. “The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures” (UK’s Press Complaints Commission, Editors’ Code of Practice, 1.i: http://www.pcc.org.uk/cop/practice.html).
  4. “A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published” (UK’s Press Complaints Commission, Editors’ Code of Practice, 1.ii).
  5. “A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for” (UK’s Press Complaints Commission, Editors’ Code of Practice, 2.)
  6. The public interest includes “detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety”, “protecting public health and safety”, “preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation”  (UK’s Press Complaints Commission, Editors’ Code of Practice, Public Interest, 1).

C.5. WesternEye stated aims:

  1. “To provide high quality news, features, sport and other coverage of events and issues of relevance to the UWE student body” (WesternEye’s terms of reference, B.1.1)
  2. “To give a platform for debate and discussion on issues that affect UWE students” (WesternEye’s terms of reference, B.1.2)
  3. To “cover all issues relevant to the University” (WesternEye’s About page, http://www.westerneye.net/about/).

C.5. Media’s specific role in relation to political accountability

  1. On the one hand, media contribute to promote and safeguard democratic process by reporting them, and reporting critically on them.
  2. The concern about UWESU’s democratic processes, and about unduly or abusive influence, was endorsed by UWE’s student body: “This Union’s executive representatives, or other unelected individuals, must use neither their position nor authority to censor or unduly influence the editorial direction of student media” (AGM Motion entitled ‘Maintain the Integrity of Student Media’).
  3. On the other hand, media also counterbalance political powers by investigating political powers and holding political powers accountable.
  4. This principle was explicitly endorsed by UWE’s student body: “student media has a duty to scrutinise the actions of its elected representatives, which enables this Union’s membership as a whole to hold its elected representatives accountable” (AGM Motion entitled ‘Maintain the Integrity of Student Media’).

C.5. Journalistic issues

Duties and responsibilities tied to media and political work are contradictory and often conflicting. On the one hand, journalists receive and concentrate a lot of knowledge, and are expected to enact principles of “truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards). They concentrate a power arising from the knowledge they concentrate in their journalistic capacity, and the status arising professional identity (they are supposed and claim to be ‘professionals’ of information). Not involving in political processes beyond their media work also reduces the risk that they will conceal or manipulate information to influence such political processes.

  1. On the other hand, institutionalised political processes are tied to partisan interests, which tend to manipulate the democratic process by selecting and distorting information and sometimes to the extent of actively silencing certain views, opinions, arguments and facts. It is precisely the role of journalists to report on those processes, on manipulations and repression within democratic processes, and to provide a medium for airing stories which are repressed by dominant and sometimes dominating political interests.
  2. Individuals cumulating journalistic and political roles and statuses become strongly empowered to (not) use information they hold to further partisan political aims within institutionalised processes of debate or decision-making and conversely to distort, select or conceal information in their editorial and journalistic capacity, while decreasing possibilities to be held accountable both as journalists/editors and as politicians.
  3. Under the Education Act 1994, the University of the West of England has a statutory duty to ensure that the Union operates in a fair and democratic manner (see UWESU Constitution, BACKGROUND, section D.).
  4. Democratic problems within UWESU exceed the conflation of media and political functions. For example, UWESU still has no adequate, formalised, independent and democratic process to deal with complaints, even though this problem was already raised in the past. For several references to this, see the recent complaint I filed about the concealed conflict between UWESU officers for references to this. In fact, the previous ‘complaint’ webpage on UWESU’s website has now even been  replaced and downgraded to a webpage asking for ‘feedback’ (http://www.uwesu.org/union/contact-us/feedback/).

More specifically, at a media — editorial and journalistic — level:

  • The Code of Conduct of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) includes that a journalist “1. At all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed”, “2. Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair”, “3. Does her/his utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies” and “8. Resists threats or any other inducements to influence, distort or suppress information and takes no unfair personal advantage of information gained in the course of her/his duties before the information is public knowledge” (http://www.nuj.org.uk/about/nuj-code/)
  • That the two first aims of the WesternEye’s aim are “1. To provide high quality news, features, sport and other coverage of events and issues of relevance to the UWE student body” and “2. To give a platform for debate and discussion on issues that affect UWE students” (WesternEye’s terms of reference, B.1, http://www.uwesu.org/pageassets/representation/agm/Draft-Western-Eye-Terms-of-Reference-ver2ndNov2012-2.pdf).

At a political level:

  • UWESU’s objects include “the advancement of education of Students at the University of the West of England for the public benefit” by “promoting the interests (…) of Students (…) and representing, supporting and advising Students” (UWESU Constitution, PART 1: KEY CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS, section 4. and 4.1).
  • UWESU’s website states that “We exist to represent you and champion your views, concerns and ideas at UWE” and that “Your elected President, Vice Presidents, and voluntary officers amplify our core values as well as championing democracy, accountability and representation. ” (https://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/)
  • On the one hand, the joint ‘double’ UWESU/WesternEye complaint process is engaged not only because this complaint, like the complaint about the concealed conflict within UWESU entangles UWESU and the WesternEye, but even at a formal level. Indeed, by combining the most powerful position within the WesternEye and the most influential role in UWESU’s meetings, Kaytie McFadden herself embodies the ‘double-sided’ (UWESU/WesternEye) aspect of the problem and the fundamental democratic problem of this contradiction.

D. Nature of the complaint

D.1. About Kaytie McFadden

D.1.1. Concentration of power

Kaytie McFadden individually concentrated:

  • as UWESU Chair of Meetings: considerable power and influence over the process of UWESU’s most important meetings as well as considerable decision-making power in improbable, rare yet crucial cases since s/he gets the casting vote (C.1.)
  • as WesternEye Editor: most of the editorial decision-making power of the student newspaper (C.2.)

As a result of the status, information, connections, etc. arising from both roles, she concentrated considerable influence over UWE’s student democracy. To my knowledge, this situation is unprecedented.

D.1.2. Breach of the separation of powers

By cumulating the role of Editor of the WesternEye and the role of UWESU Chair of Meetings, Kaytie McFadden breached the democratic principle of the separation of powers by involving with a political power (UWESU) and a media power (WesternEye).

 

    1. Synthesis: by cumulating the role of Editor of the WesternEye and the role of UWESU Chair of Meetings, Kaytie McFadden breached the democratic principle of the separation of powers and concentrated individually considerable influence over student media and meetings’ processes.

Outcome of Stage 2 investigation with UWE complaints:

Description of the material irregularity:

Outcome sought:

 

 

When a preliminary version of this complaint was initially submitted on 17 February 2014, it included two urgent requests to UWESU:

  1. to postpone the 18/2 UWESU Student Council,
  2. to remove Kaytie McFadden as UWESU Chair of Meetings before any next meeting.
  3. which is why it is also addressed to UWESU through UWESU’s president. Indeed, the primary contact point for UWESU complaints, UWESU’s General Manager (http://www.uwesu.org/union/contact-us/feedback/)  informed me by email () that he is on leave this week.

This complaint is submitted in a form that I consider to be unfinished, due to the urgency to postpone or at least address the chairing process of the 18/2 Student Council so I have focused on documenting this aspect. The ‘broader’ case will be further consolidated on the following webpage (http://network23.org/benoit/2014/02/17/uwe-bristol-uwesu-democracy-complaint-about-kaytie-mcfaddens-conflict-of-interest), relates to the complaint centered on the conflict within UWESU (https://network23.org/benoit/2014/02/12/complaint-centered-on-conflict-between-uwesu-officers-around-20-21-nov-ref-uwesu20141/) as well as a number of other past and forthcoming complaints. A final copy will be sent to all four main addressees as soon as possible, when it will be completed.

On 11/11/2013, Kaytie McFadden participated to a student activist meeting about planning and organising protests against the military business and arms ‘DPRTE’ fair at UWE on 20 November 2013. Even though she introduced herself as the Editor of the WesternEye and committed to report about this protest, she ended up speaking in her personal capacity (and in my memory mostly in that capacity). Even though I consider that to be a secondary issue, she did not clarify when she was speaking in her professional or personal capacity. More importantly, part of her contribution to that meeting was to propose the slogan ‘No WMDs at UWE’ to the student activist group, after saying that the WesternEye team had abandoned it as a possible headline. Not only such actions and conflation of roles void all her claims to impartiality (as Chair of Meetings and Editor). Moreover, her behaviour also voids her claims to ‘journalistic’ impartiality. Indeed, it demonstrates that she had already decided to script her report of student activists’ reasons for protesting DPRTE as an ‘arms fair protest’ even before starting to gather information about their reasons for doing so (a line that she then pursued with much obstinacy, as the evidence below demonstrates).

On 19/11/2013, following the publication of an article entitled “UWE HOSTS ‘ARMS FAIR'” (http://www.westerneye.net/news/2013/11/uwe-hosts-arms-fair/), I emailed Kaytie McFadden expressing concerns that the WesternEye was misrepresenting and significantly narrowing student activists’ reasons for protesting. I referred to the fact that Kaytie attended the above-mentioned student activist meeting “where there was discussion and consensus that it was about much more than this”. I also highlighted that this was a serious problem and offered to meet to discuss and address this. This message was never answered.

On 23/11/2013, I emailed all five UWESU presidents a number of requests for witness statements following the events that had happened on 20 and 21 November, including intimidation/repression and criminalisation of UWE politically active students on campus, broken commitments from UWESU officers to support student activists, urgent request from student activists to meet all five UWESU presidents to discuss their duty of care on freedom of expression on campus, as well as a number of other issues that were directly discussed with them on 21 November. I asked them to give their witness statements to the Editor of the WesternEye, assuming that this role would be independent and adequate for dealing with such information in this extra-ordinary situation until a better and more relaxed process could be agreed.

On 4/12/2013, I emailed Kaytie McFadden after discovering that she was both UWESU’s Chair of Meetings and the Editor of the WesternEye. I argued that she did not report accurately why UWE student activists opposed the military business and arms fair ‘DPRTE 2013’ on 20 November 2013 even though she had been allowed to attend a key student activist meeting where this was discussed, which led her (as a journalist) and her newspaper to misrepresent the issues by framing everything within the narrow ‘arms fair’ definitional debate. I also asked her if she saw any conflict of interest between her two roles.

On 04/12/2013, Kaytie McFadden answered, asking to clarify the conflict of interest and stating that she “spoke in both a personal and professional capacity, and I made it very clear at all times about which hat I was wearing so to speak” when she attended a meeting of student activists on 11 November 2013. About the reporting of DPRTE, she wrote: “we cannot please everyone and feel that we reported upon the event in such a way that we remained unbiased and therefore remained a fair and reliable news source for UWE students”.

On 04/02/2014 at 13:52, Duncan Stokes emailed me that I had less than 24 hours before the deadline to re-submit a motion to the Student Council that had not been heard at UWESU’s AGM on 21 November 2013 due to a loss of quorum.

On 04/02/2014 around 2pm, I spoke over the phone with Duncan Stokes and part of our conversation had to do with the process to request time to speak to the Student Council. Duncan informed me that such a request should be directed at the Chair of Meetings. I then outlined to Duncan the case for the conflict of interest with Kaytie McFadden who is currently both the Editor for the WesternEye (UWE’s Student Newspaper) and UWESU’s chair of meetings. Duncan sidestepped the issue by claiming that his role was exclusively to facilitate the Student Council meeting but committed to facilitate the meeting process by summarising our conversation in writing, emailing me the contact details of the chair of meetings and making sure that my request would be read by her on time.

On 04/02/2014 at 15:54, without a reply from Duncan Stokes, I emailed Kaytie McFadden using her address as editor of the Western Eye. In that message, I evoked serious democratic problems within UWESU specifically referring to the AGM but most importantly, I outlined the case for a conflict of interest between her role as editor of the WesternEye and her role as UWESU’s Chair of Meetings. I then requested to her, as UWESU’s Chair of Meetings, time to speak about fundamental, serious ongoing issues about UWESU before the Student Council on 18/2.

Without any answer from Kaytie McFadden about my request to speak, the deadline for the motions approaching, I wrote a brief email to Megan Edmunds on 05/02/2014 at 12:34 with a request to speak to the Student Council.

On 5/2/2014 at 13:47, Kaytie McFadden emailed a reply, arguing that my request to speak to the Student Council should be directed to Megan Edmunds (VP Education), contrary to what Duncan Stokes had told me.

On 05/02/2014 at 15:57, Megan Edmunds answered this request by writing that she was: “happy for the Chair to ask the floor if they are prepared to hear you speak as requested.”

On 05/02/2014 at 20:06, I answered to Megan Edmunds, briefly making the case for the conflict of interest and asking Kaytie McFadden to be removed as Chair of Meetings. I was unable to start making the case in my 05/02/2014 @ 12:34 email due to UWESU-cause time constraints and I was also unable to make the broader case I am making today due to time constraints and other urgent commitments largely related to the broader democratic crisis within UWESU.

So what is the case?

  • At an abstract level,  As her emails below demonstrate, Kaytie McFadden seems not to recognise this, pretends not to, or thinks it does not apply to her.
  • Translated at university-level, it is not possible to be a pivotal actor of student democracy (as UWESU’s Chair of Meetings) and, at the same time, make claims to independent reporting and editorial decision-making about such processes (the WesternEye even claims to be “UWE’s totally independent student newspaper” (emphasis added, http://www.westerneye.net/about/).
  • At a practical level, as an editor and as a journalist, it is not possible to report at all on crucial events of student democracy – events that the WesternEye should reporting about – while chairing those events. Due to this conflict of interest, UWESU’s 2013/2014 AGM could not be reported and was not reported, in contrast with what other WesternEye editors previously did, for example in 2010 (http://www.westerneye.net/news/2011/02/agm-2010-report/) or in 2008 (http://www.westerneye.net/news/2008/12/agm-2008-another-good-mass-debate/).
  • As an editor and a journalist, it is impossible to report independently on issues about the democratic process, and issues with the democratic process itself, if you are yourself directly entangled with them, especially in such a pivotal role such as Chair of Meetings. Indeed, several very serious (substantive issues) were not covered by the WesternEye, one of which is the conflict within UWESU’s officers’ team (https://network23.org/benoit/2014/02/12/complaint-centered-on-conflict-between-uwesu-officers-around-20-21-nov-ref-uwesu20141/). Kaytie McFadden was requested to clarify what she knews and knows about this conflict but still hasn’t answered (https://network23.org/benoit/2014/02/17/to-westerneyes-editor-how-much-diddo-you-know-about-the-conflict-between-uwesus-officers-ref-westerneye20141/).
  • In her journalistic capacity, as far as the reporting of the reasons UWE student activists opposed the DPRTE military business fair on 20 November, not only Kaytie McFadden attended a meeting where the broader issues were discussed but she also received a follow-up email sent to all participants of the 11/11 meeting that stated the following: “We spoke briefly about the wider connotations and ideology behind the University’s decision to host an event like this. We felt that it ties into the bigger struggle against cuts to staffing and course closures. The University continues to invest in facilities that are useless to students, such as the new stadium, which like the ECC will probably be empty most of the time. At the same time students have seen the closer of the language department, attempts to close the Politics and IR courses and staff have seen cuts and no pay rises, all of which have affected the quality of education at UWE.” Finally, Kaytie also received and could consult student activists’ press releases that mentioned broader reasons for protesting this event (see for example the first one: https://network23.org/uwe-struggles/2013/11/19/uwe-students-to-peacefully-disarm-military-business-fair-on-campus-through-party/).
  • On transparency grounds, having won the position of UWESU’s Chair of Meetings, Kaytie McFadden should have never sought the position of Editor for the WesternEye. As a Candidate for the position of Chair of Meetings, Kaytie McFadden disclosed that she was involved with the WesternEye as Assistant Editor (http://www.uwesu.org/elections/manifesto/538/) but she did not state that she considered or intended to seek further influence in the student newspaper. Finally, once appointed as Editor and Chair of Meetings, in my knowledge, she never made it clear to the student body that she concentrated both roles. In my view, it is a matter of professional incompetence for someone who makes claims to be a journalist, not to see that such official appointments and concentrations of influence is not just relevant but crucial information to share.
  • On the question of ‘political’ impartiality, in her manifesto as Candidate for the position of Chair of Meetings, Kaytie McFadden wrote that “I am not afiliated [sic] with any political party, and am therefore not swayed by any party politics, meaning that I can make clear and fair judgements without external influence” (http://www.uwesu.org/elections/manifesto/538/). Not only the lack of party membership does not guarantee impartiality but, more substantively, my observations of her participation to the 11/11/2013 student activist meeting and the above-mentioned email Kaytie McFadden sent on 4/12/2013, void her claims to ‘political’ impartiality.
  • On procedural grounds, as an editor, against the WesternEye’s complaints policy, Kaytie McFadden also did not answer many questions and messages even though she is required to do so (paragraph G2.c in http://www.uwesu.org/pageassets/union/contact-us/wecomplaints/Complaints-Procedure-for-web.pdf). This included, for example, repeated requests to clarify who was involved editing and writing the article entitled ‘UWE TO HOST ‘ARMS FAIR” (http://www.westerneye.net/news/2013/11/uwe-hosts-arms-fair/) that she was involved writing as she said at the student activist meeting on 11/11/2013. This  article currently has no publicly identified author.
  • As a chair, on 18 February 2014, against this background, Kaytie McFadden will not be able to chair impartially the next Student Council meeting where Megan Edmunds will put a request for me to speak to the Student Council about crucial, grave and controversial issues partly involving both Kaytie McFadden and Megan Edmunds, and where two motions I propose will then also be considered. In fact, I would argue that Kaytie McFadden, but also Megan Edmunds and the other UWESU officers, will have a strong interest to derail or interfere with the democratic process.

This complaint raises numerous questions and issues which not only have to do with the fact that Kaytie McFadden concentrated and conflated two fundamentally incompatible roles. Kaytie McFadden has also proven unable to recognise the conflict of interests that prevented her to act responsibly within both roles in specific situations, let alone to deal with those related problems that progressively arose in each of those roles that I could document.

Moreover, within her editorial and journalistic role, in relation to student activists’ protests, she imposed her agenda within the student newspaper, narrowing and stifling students’ reasons for protesting to the extent of seemingly ignoring (a) what she observed during a student activist meeting, (b) a report about this meeting, (c) press releases and then even (d) emails pointing out the problem and asking her to correct it!

Corrective actions demanded:

  • Urgent: UWESU to postpone the 18/2 Student Council until this complaint as well as the other related and broader complaint about the concealed conflict between UWESU’s officers (https://network23.org/benoit/2014/02/12/complaint-centered-on-conflict-between-uwesu-officers-around-20-21-nov-ref-uwesu20141/) are examined and answered. This request also follows a request made on 21 November to all five UWESU presidents in person to postpone the AGM on grounds of breaches to the democratic process and following the grave events that happened at UWE on 20 November (which remain to be addressed, see for example 23/11 email), a request that was not supported by UWESU presidents and derailed at the AGM in a way that has not been reported in the minutes but that has been reported to me as incoherent with the Constitution of UWESU. It also happens in a general climate of obstruction from UWESU, some of which is visible in the above-mentioned chronology.
  • Urgent if the above-mentioned is not granted: remove Kaytie McFadden as UWESU Chair of Meetings before the 18/2 Student Council and appoint another person to chair that meeting until the complaints related to her can be examined.
  • Urgent: WesternEye and UWESU to publish on both of their websites the message of UWE student activists to UWE students written on 20 November: https://network23.org/uwe-struggles/2013/11/20/to-uwe-students-wondering-what-was-going-on-on-campus-today/ as well as follow-up report and analysis from student activists’ perspective (to be written).
  • WesternEye to immediately remove Kaytie McFadden as Editor of the Student Newspaper and to publish a summary of the reasons for doing so.
  • Neither the UWESU complaints process nor the WesternEye complaints process are adequate to deal with the issues that are raised and sometimes merely evoked in this complaint. On the one hand, according to UWESU’s webpage about WesternEye complaints (http://www.uwesu.org/union/contact-us/wecomplaints/), the Editorial Board who oversee the WesternEye “is made up of the General Manager of the Students’ Union, Vice-President Societies & Communications, Societies & Communications Officer, a UWE expert in Journalism or Media Law, and an independently elected student.” Apart from the UWE expert and possibly the independently elected student, this board is made of people who are entangled with this and other complaints, and against which more complaints are coming. On the other hand, UWESU has no adequate complaint process and there is no trust in its feedback process. As a result, as a first proposal for dealing with this complex, messy and overflowing crisis at UWESU-level, my suggestion is for an independent and adequate panel to be appointed including relevant UWE experts (including, for the journalistic aspects, one in Journalism and one in Media Law), the Head of UWE complaints, two NUS officers and for them to perform an independent UWESU-funded review of this situation, including how Kaytie McFadden’s conflict of interest but also the broader situation with UWESU’s leadership and management affected not just the editorial decisions and reporting within the WesternEye but also how democratic processes both within and beyond UWESU, including but not limited to the AGM on 21 November (including preparation process, AGM itself, reporting of the AGM), the protests on 20 November and the concealed conflict between UWESU officers.

Immediate corrective actions

WesternEye

Arising from D.1.1 (cumulation of power) and D.1.2 (breach of the separation of powers):

  1. WesternEye to publicly commit not to allow individuals to cumulate responsibilities within student media, especially editorial responsibilities, with positions within UWESU.
  2. WesternEye to immediately remove Kaytie McFadden as Editor.

UWESU

Arising from D.1.1 (cumulation of power) and D.1.2 (breach of the separation of powers):

  1. UWESU to publicly commit not to allow individuals to cumulate responsibilities within student media, especially editorial responsibilities, with positions within UWESU.
  2. UWESU to immediately remove Kaytie McFadden as Chair of Meetings.

Kaytie McFadden

To issue a public letter acknowledging the issues she recognises once the complaints have been examined.

 

 

 

  •  “Any contact that the Editor thinks may constitute or develop into a complaint should receive an individual reply” as well as the statement that “Western Eye and the Board should be transparent in its operational practices and in how it handles complaints” (WesternEye’s complaints procedure, G2.c and G3.c).

Notes

 

  1. On process grounds, it is legitimate to expect from the Editor of the student newspaper to attend the most important democratic meetings of the Students’ Union as an observer, to report on any irregularity within this process.
  2. On content grounds, it is legitimate to expect from the Editor of the student newspaper to provide UWE students and the wider UWE community a report of the most important democratic meetings of the Students’ Union and the debates that took place there.
  3. very political processes that she ended up running. Moreover, as an editor/journalist, Kaytie McFadden was supposed to hold political powers (UWESU) accountable.

 

but raises more systemic issues about student democracy at UWE, especially within UWESU and the WesternEye:

At an individual level, Kaytie McFadden sought and gained two most influential roles within those two organisations (UWESU Chair of Meetings and Editor of the WesternEye) and has so far refused to recognise a conflict of interest, as well as breaches of her chairing and editorial/journalistic responsibilities and duties.

  1. At the level of both UWESU and the WesternEye, not only each organisation allowed this conflict of interest to develop, but also both  then actively silenced and obstructed efforts to address it.
  2. At the level of UWE’s democracy, (1) the existence of this conflict in itself, (2) the way it was handled by UWESU and the WesternEye and (3) the dense institutional interrelations between UWESU and the WesternEye reveal fundamental shortcomings in the democratic culture and the institutional procedures of both organisations.

References

Day, Rebecca (30/11/2011) An Unfair Dismissal?, The Western Eye, http://www.westerneye.net/comment/2011/11/an-unfair-dismissal/

About UWESU: https://www.uwesu.org/union/aboutuwesu/

UK’s Press Complaints Commission, Editors’ Code of Practice: http://www.pcc.org.uk/cop/practice.html

Motion entitled ‘Maintain the Integrity of Student Media’ voted on 30/11/2011 at UWESU’s AGM: https://www.uwesu.org/news/article/6707/205/

WesternEye’s complaints procedure: http://www.uwesu.org/pageassets/union/contact-us/wecomplaints/Complaints-Procedure-for-web.pdf