Sunday, 16 February 2014

Protests work! South Bank University Students Union apologises for censorship

The widespread condemnation of the decision of the South Bank University Students Union to remove posters advertising the Atheist Society (see here) has led to an apology from the President of the union:

Further to our investigation and meeting with the Atheist Society an official apology & explanation was given by the Union and accepted by the Atheist Society:

Both the Students’ Union and its elected representatives encourage and promote debate of all religious, political and social issues. We will always listen and respond to complaints made to us by our students but we do not condone censorship; we encourage and promote debate of all religious, political and social issues at the Students’ Union.

A complaint was made as the result of the interaction of individuals at a student-led event. In regards to the removal of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” poster, a Union staff member did remove the poster but did so with a misunderstanding of Union policies. It is not currently nor has it ever been the Union policy to censor student groups or the materials they produce and as such this was not an authorised act and we have now ensured that staff know that they should not do this. The refusal to reprint the poster was an extension of the same misunderstanding of our process and we have now rectified this.

We have apologised to the Atheist Society for the actions taken and the distress that it has caused. From a Union perspective the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ Poster has not been banned and we have agreed with the Atheist Society to reprint these posters and distribute them on campus for them. They will also be displayed inside the Union’s locked poster boards in order to prevent them being taken down by other students. We respect that all students are able to have opinions, but as a Union we wish to support the promotion and growth of any Union Society or activity without having to be subjected to harassment by fellow students by having their free speech curtailed . We remind students that the appropriate response to opinions they may find offensive is to engage in healthy debate respecting the rights of others to hold views or beliefs differing from their own.....

In regards to the removal of the Atheist Society stall from the Fayre, this was due to a Pre-Planned Volunteering event, because of which resources and space were limited. To accommodate the situation we used a first come, first serve policy with the remaining tables and backing boards to make the best use of them. However, we do not wish to make excuses for posters having been removed and will from now on ensure that the policies the Union stand for are being observed by all our staff and all societies and members of the Union are treated fairly and equally. In recognising the distress caused to the society by our actions we have met with and apologised to The Atheist Society President and Vice president.

We recognise that issues with communications on our part meant that the Atheist Society was not aware of the switch to first come first serve in regards to the Refreshers Stalls and this subsequently meant that they lost out on their space at the fayre to the LGBTQ Society. As such we will be looking into better communications and general relations with the Atheist Society and all LSBU societies.

The Atheist Society are as welcome at the Students’ Union as any group or Society and we completely respect and support their right to freedom of expression and free speech. We will continue to support the Atheist Society in this manner.

Barbara Ahland
Students' Union President
London South Bank Students' Union

The Atheist Society has responded to this positive development:

Cloe Ansari, President of the South Bank University Atheist Society said, “I welcome this statement and apology from the Students’ Union. We are glad that junior union officials will no longer be able to censor our society or prevent us from holding debates. It is encouraging that the Union President and CEO have fully supported our right to free speech, we hope that this support will be accepted by the Union officials who had censored and harassed us. We will be meeting with the Union President and CEO again in two months to follow-up on their commitments”

However there remain threats to freedom of speech both in our Universities and elsewhere which means everyone needs to remain ever vigilant against (particularly) religious censorship.

Watch this space!

No comments:

Post a Comment