MPs representing both government and opposition parties feel there should be more room for independent journalism at universities and universities of applied sciences. “This is necessary for keeping administrators on their toes.”
Two editors were fired from the University of Groningen’s university newspaper, called UK. They claim they were censored and not allowed to write critical articles on sensitive subjects such as the university’s campus in Yantai, China, but the editor-in-chief and the university have denied this.
“Universities should be bastions of freedom, which definitely includes freedom of the press,” said Paul van Meenen, an MP for the D66 government party. “Clearly, there was no such freedom here, I think, so I’m going to ask the Minister how she feels about that.”
He has registered for the Lower House’s weekly question time. If his questions make it onto the list, the Minister will have to tell the House tomorrow what value she places on university media.
Another MP, the Socialist Party’s Frank Futselaar, seeks to support independent journalism in higher education, as well. “This is about making higher education more democratic,” he said. “Democracies only work if there is some degree of independent journalism.”
Six years ago, his party proposed that the independence of the newspapers published by universities and universities of applied sciences be safeguarded. Futselaar wishes to breathe new life into that plan during the Lower House’s debate on the education budget. “Most universities of applied sciences no longer publish independent magazines, and the ones published at universities are regularly put under pressure.”
He feels university administrators will always have a say in the matter. After all, they pay for the magazines or papers to be published. But ideally, they should be kept at a distance, and not interfere with the articles published or the editors publishing them.
But what if there is a conflict between the university’s executive board and the journalists? “I’d rather see angry members of the board explain in a letter to the editor why the report published by the paper was incorrect,” said Futselaar.
In Groningen, a special committee examined the university’s conflict with two editors of the UK student paper, and found in favour of the editor-in-chief and the university: there was no censorship. However, there was a ‘certain amount of tension’.
An education institution can be compared to a small municipality, said Futselaar. “Sometimes a local newspaper will publish critical articles on the mayor, and at other times it will take pictures of him opening a new school. That’s the way these things go. I’m a politician. I don’t always care for what journalists write about me, either. But that’s a small price to pay for independent journalism.”