As stated at the University Senate Plenary in May, Columbia now requests that each campus news source register its journalists. By signing an agreement and submitting the contact information of its staff, a publication can receive press credentials which would “protect” its journalists from facing disciplinary action due to violations of the Rules of Conduct. The deadline to register was yesterday, and we are making this statement to express our confusion and discomfort around the new policy.
There are a couple of reasons why this policy makes us uncomfortable. Firstly, we were not notified of the application and deadline for applying for press credentials–if the University seeks to protect journalists, why would they not make us aware of how to comply with this new policy (especially when we are named in the policy)?
Secondly, we find the division of “registered journalist” and “bystander” to be inefficient, unnecessary, and unfair. Our staff ebbs and flows–writers can join Bwog at any point during the semester, and if a new staffer is the only person who is free to cover a protest (and they haven’t been registered yet), they should not have to risk punishment. Any journalist covering a protest without prior registration with the university opens themselves to the threat of disciplinary action–this includes a new staffer who joins us mid-semester, or a tipster requesting credit for a photo they submit.
Furthermore, this policy is not necessary. Having unlabeled journalists at protests hasn’t been a problem in the past, and requiring us to register now is unsettling. The notes from the April University Senate plenary mention Public Safety’s handling of a journalist being different than its handling of a bystander, as registration will allow them to “identify [us] during a demonstration, and treat [us] accordingly.” While these rules could be in place for our protection, we are concerned that the manner in which bystanders will be handled is going to change.
Ultimately, we believe that this policy unjustly widens the definition of who is culpable at protests in allowing these “protections” to pre-approved members of publications only. This is not a “mechanism for protecting student press,” but a way of restricting and silencing students’ voices.
We debated for a long time whether or not we should register our staff. Although we don’t agree with this new policy from the University, we ultimately decided that in order to best serve the Columbia community, we need to be able to access and report on protests safely. We do not agree with the division of “journalist” and “bystander”–all students should be able to observe and record activism on campus without the threat of punishment–but we feel that we don’t have a choice but to comply.
Editor in Chief