An extraordinary open meeting was held by St Catherine’s College JCR on Wednesday, due to a debate concerning an undemocratic poll on Facebook which would decide which newspapers should be stocked in the JCR.
The JCR voted on Saturday 7th March to reverse the decision made by this Facebook poll because it was deemed to have been made undemocratically, on the ground that the vote on the JCR Facebook page was not anonymous, did not include all JCR members and included members who no longer attend the college.
As a result of the debate earlier this week, the JCR President decided to hold an extraordinary open meeting in which two motions were proposed to around 80 students in light of the issue. The first addressed how the decision to stock tabloids in the JCR should be carried out and the second was in relation to stocking The Sun specifically.
The first motion noted, “A previous motion (Hilary Term Week 3, 2014) mandated the JCR to reduce spending on newspapers. This was conducted via a Facebook poll which was then decided to be unlawful and the results were reversed. We have reverted to all of our previous newspaper subscriptions.”
The motion resolved to conduct an anonymous poll on the College’s JCR website with a ‘yes’ to cut a paper, ‘no’ to not cut a paper and a ‘don’t mind’ vote, cancelling the JCR subscription to the newspapers which received more than 50% of ‘yes’ votes.
The outcome was an amendment to mandate the IT Representative to hold an anonymous poll on the JCR website, listing all papers from the current order with options to vote for ‘Keep’, ‘Don’t keep’ and ‘Abstain’ for each newspaper. Each paper which received more than 50 per cent of votes for the ‘Keep’ option would be ordered for Trinity term, and if fewer than six papers received 50 per cent of the ‘Keep’ vote, the six papers with the highest ‘Keep’ votes would be ordered.
This vote is to be repeated in 8th week of each term in order to keep up to date with new members of the JCR and changing opinions. The amended motion passed 73 votes to one.
The second motion noted, “That ‘all national newspapers’ would include both The Sun and The Daily Star as options, newspapers which (among their myriad other examples of harmful attitudes & content) contain images that cause undeniable discomfort to a significant proportion of the JCR…The Sun’s Page 3 is currently the only widely legitimised form of female nudity in a society which otherwise deems it necessary that female breasts should be covered at all times (see, for example, Facebook/Instagram obscenity guidelines), thereby stating that the only acceptable naked female body is a narrowly sexualised one…The Sun and The Daily Star contained offensive content as well as controversial images with particular focus being placed on the female nudity of The Sun’s Page Three.”
The Sun was not included in the original Facebook poll intentionally due to the JCR’s past support of the NoMorePage3 campaign and The Daily Star was accidently missed off the poll.
The motion stated that by stocking The Sun in the JCR, Catz would be supporting the objectification of women and thus resolved for The Sun and The Daily Star to be removed from the poll as options until the sexualisation of the female body was removed from their content.
The proposition, made by members of Catz Feminist Society, argued, “The Sun is an ideological statement. We need to make a clear statement that Catz shouldn’t support this. It is a chance for Catz to make a really admiral statement. We need a binding motion, regardless of the newspaper ordering system.”
The speech in opposition then responded, “We are arching over what the JCR stands for. People have a right to vote on each individual paper. We shouldn’t censor the list. We remove the fundamental right for people to decide their own choices.
“To show how the JCR really feels, we need to poll beyond the people who are here today. The Sun is the most widely read paper in the country, reaching around ten million people. How can we construct opinions about The Sun without reading it ourselves? We need to continue to be aware of it. To only see broadsheets would have class implications. All papers should be treated the same to be truly democratic.”
The concluding opposition argument stated that the decision to not stock The Sun and The Daily Star should be voted by a poll rather than in the open meeting.
After a call for a secret ballot, 31 voted in favour of the motion to not stock The Sun, 61 voted against and three abstained.
Cherwell spoke to a student at St Catherine’s who was present at the open meeting. She commented, “The debate on the JCR Facebook page a few days ago clearly showed that there were two issues that people were conflating, that of the way we vote on papers and that of the JCR’s general stance on newspapers which feature Page Three-type content.
“I think students rightly feel very strongly about making sure they have a say in the types of newspapers the JCR orders. People feel strongly about Page Three for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is a very visible manifestation of the way women’s bodies are sexualized and objectified in the media – if it’s fair for the images in The Sun or The Star to be visible in the JCR, I should also be allowed to take my top off on Facebook without it violating obscenity guidelines – as it is, there’s a double standard.
“People also have strong views about anything that they feel censors the free press, so people were concerned that the second motion cancelled out the democracy of the first. The issues understandably became conflated, but the idea behind motion two was not to undermine the JCR’s vote on newspapers but rather for the JCR to make a stand and not consider The Sun and The Star as appropriate options until their Page Three images are removed.”
On the topic of the representation of the JCR at open meetings, she stated, “I think the attendance at last night’s meeting showed that people do attend meetings on the issues they care about, and the range of opinion showed that the meetings do represent a broad cross-section of views from across the JCR.”