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One of the criticisms I’ve often heard levelled at SCAN is that it is run in an undemocratic manner. The reasons for this claim of un-democracy are twofold: SCAN does not hold General Meetings, thus taking the running of the paper out of the hands of the membership, and it does not elect its editorial team, leaving it instead to the Vice President (Media & Communications)/SCAN Editor to appoint the team of his or her choice.
The first accusation is valid.
Steps are being taken to address it: following the introduction of the Joint Media Membership scheme, whereby students who pay to join one of Lancaster’s media organisations can automatically if they wish become members of all three, SCAN’s constitution was changed and at least one General Meeting must now be held each term. This will allow members a voice in the way SCAN is run, in its editorial direction, in changes to its constitution, and bring it more into line with the other media organisations, Bailrigg FM and LUTube.tv.
The second is rather less so.
The comparison always made is to societies, which elect from their membership an exec to oversee the running of the society. Societies are there purely for their members; execs are elected by the members to represent them and ensure their interests are upheld.
Media organisations are not societies. Like RAG, Nightline and LU Cinema, the three media organisations are sub-committees of LUSU. They exist to provide a service to the whole student body.
SCAN’s primary purpose is to publish articles that students want to read; if we don’t then we’re not doing our jobs properly. The Sports Editors, for example, are not there to represent sports writers or members of sports teams or indeed anyone else. They are there to ensure that SCAN’s sports coverage is wide-ranging and accurate and interests as many readers as possible. For Lancaster’s media to provide the best possible service to Lancaster’s students, it needs the best possible people directing it.
I have been to enough society elections to know that this is not a guarantee of quality. I have seen people elected onto society execs for no other reason than that their friends turned out in droves to vote for them. I have been one of those people who voted for my friends simply because they were my friends. Sometimes the best person won. Sometimes, unfortunately, they didn’t, and I have seen the way societies struggle if members of the exec are not pulling their weight.
The Editor of SCAN is elected by the student body to run the paper in a certain way. To allow them to keep their election pledges, they need the freedom to appoint the people they know will help them do this. After all, following a General Election the public do not vote to elect members of the Cabinet. Members of Parliament do not vote either. It is the newly elected Prime Minister who decides the best person to take on each job.
SCAN’s appointments procedure should be fair, transparent and open to everyone, but it should be there.
One of the things university should prepare us for is surviving in the real world. Unless we’re all intending to become politicians, it’s unlikely our future careers will be based on how many people we can convince to vote for us. At some point, we will need to show someone, somewhere, that we are the best person for a particular job.
SCAN isn’t there just to provide budding journalists the chance to prepare for a career in the media. It’s there to provide a news service that is accurate, relevant and of interest to Lancaster students. But it’s worth noting that organisations such as the BBC and The Times – organisations there to provide a news service that is accurate, relevant and of interest to the British population – do not vote to fill their editorial positions. Why should SCAN be any different?
In fact, why should any sub-committee be any different? SCAN is there for its readers, not just its writers, and other sub-committees are the same: they’re there to provide the service their users want, not the service they want to give. They too need to have the best people in the positions of responsibility. Why don’t all sub-committees take SCAN’s approach and appoint rather than elect?