Members of Harris Manchester JCR have been embroiled in conflict this week, after the narrow defeat of a motion to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.
The motion, proposed by law student Edgar Mkrtchian at a JCR meeting last week, argued that the Wall Street Journal “has some of the most knowledgeble, deeply-analysed, and well-written articles on business and financial news.”
However it was brought to the attention of the JCR that last term, following a suggestion by second year PPE student Calum Proctor, another motion had been passed to unsubscribe from all Murdoch publications. The proposal to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal (owned by Murdoch) then failed by a single vote.
Proctor justified the boycott by criticising the “journalistic standards” of papers such as The Times, claiming the standard of content had “rapidly fallen”. He also expressed fears regarding the “monopoly of print media” and referenced the recent phone-hacking scandal which tarnished the reputation of Murdoch’s News Corp.
Such criticisms were dismissed as “misguided and inaccurate” by Mkrtchian however, who argued that The Wall Street Journal “has some of the best writing on business and financial markets which is recognised by even their fiercest critics”. He also criticised the “dig on journalistic standards” as “a kind of dog-whistle for attacking the opinions espoused on the editorial pages”. He claimed that these “do not affect the news sections of the paper.”
Mkrtchain further expressed his anger at the boycott, blaming it for the failure of the motion. He told Cherwell, “Universities and institutions of higher learning hold as a central tenet the free pursuit of knowledge,” adding, “Deliberately not subscribing to a newspaper because of a dislike of the ownership of a holding company that in turn owns the publication runs counter to that goal.” He questioned the “haphazard” and “misguided” nature of the boycott, commenting, “We currently support 20th Century Fox and other Murdoch-owned properties.”
Proctor countered this, stating, “We do not “support” 20th Century Fox. Our library holds some of its films and many of the members of the JCR enjoy certain content which is transmitted by Murdoch-owned properties.”
He continued, “The apparent inability to distinguish between the news content of a press monopoly and profit-driven activities to which the content is (beyond its popularity) entirely incidental is either a petulant smokescreen or an indication of imbecility.”
He concluded, “I do not believe that many people would seriously contend either that the Murdoch Empire has been good for journalism or that subscribing to its output is essential for “the free pursuit of knowledge”. Neither I nor the JCR are advocating book-burning, we merely believe that our budget is not best spent providing Edgar with personal reading material of dubious origins.”
JCR President Lois Sage stated that the JCR “review their subscriptions regularly at JCR meetings,” adding that the decision was made as some students “believe that the Murdoch group does not deserve our support” and that others had concerns regarding “the quality of journalism.”
He added, “I believe that, as a student body, the JCR is capable of making rational and considered decisions and we could not for a moment suggest that the other papers we subscribe to do everything right, which is why we reserve the right to change our minds and vary our reading matter every few terms.”