At ANU, we have two distinctly separate SSAF-funded student media organisations: Woroni and ANU Observer. This is perhaps the only example of such an arrangement at any university, at least from what I can tell. In my opinion, this a poor arrangement.
Woroni has been in existence in some form or another for nearly 70 years now: it is one of the longest-running student-led publications in the country. It is an institution in its own right. Woroni has evolved over time, remaining relevant to a large section of ANU’s community. ANU Observer on the other hand, sprang to life in late 2016, the circumstances around which are unclear at best. It has quickly gained some popularity around campus.
Last year, Observer sought to become an organisation which would receive SSAF monies directly. How Observer did this remains relatively unexplained to students, primarily due to the lack of transparency regarding the justification of the decision. All we have is this response to a question as to why the funding was granted: When Observer first inquired about SSAF funding in the 2018 round, Prof. Baker granted this funding on the strict condition that it have “equivalent governance structures as the existing eligible parties”. Is this really a satisfactory explanation?
Perhaps I’m missing something, but logically, two student media organisations on a relatively small campus such as ANU does not add up. We already had, and continue to have, a robust, talented and dedicated student media in Woroni. This is not to suggest that Observer’s team does not possess these attributes, but at the end of the day, both organisations serve a small market, oftentimes producing similar news content. In fact, within both organisations’ governing documents, there are similarities; just have a look at each organisations’ “objects” within their respective constitutions.
Furthermore, including Observer in SSAF negotiations has added new constraints on an already limited SSAF budget at ANU. Not only has ANU capped the number of new students each year and therefore the SSAF budget is limited, but now it must be spread thinner – and spread thinner so that Observer is able to pay the students who run it? Or so that it is able to pay rent for office space – rent which will go right back into ANU’s hands? In its 2018 budget, $22,680 of the total $32,000 was dedicated to paying “Allowances and Honoraria” to students in Observer, and now this year, it seeks to make use of presumably a substantial amount of money – though how much is unknown because it remains the only SSAF-receiving organisation yet to release a detailed budget – for office space. This is a luxury. I’m sorry, but to me, this seems like a lousy use of our money.
I have a deep dislike for Observer. In my experience, particularly as ANUSA’s Indigenous Officer this past year, Observer has proven itself to be incapable of engaging meaningfully or respectfully with our mob. I would even go so far as to say that it has been ignorant of Indigenous issues, disrespectful, and unnecessarily belligerent and difficult to work with.
Firstly, it appropriated an article it wrote for National Reconciliation Week, with quotes from myself, and released it in NAIDOC Week, with no appropriate acknowledgement of the theme or the months of work Indigenous students put in to planning the week. These are two distinctly separate weeks: one a week to acknowledge the past and how we move forward as a community, and the other a week to celebrate the achievements and contributions of our mob.
Then, in its originally published “weekly wrap-up” of week 2 (i.e. ANU NAIDOC Week), it failed to mention NAIDOC Week or any of the multitude of activities that took place: implied in its exclusion, it was a week lacking significance for Observer and by extension for the ANU community. Talk about erasure of Indigenous achievement.
To be clear, we also had issues with Woroni when it came to the NAIDOC pull-out, but unlike Observer, Woroni was willing to own up to its mistakes and make a heartfelt and genuine, very public, apology.
My dislike for Observer does not mean questions around its beginning and its seat at the SSAF table are invalid. We have a right to question these matters and should continue to do so until we receive a satisfactory answer.
I encourage everyone to ask themselves: are my SSAF dollars being put to good use? Even if you disagree with my opinion in regards to Observer, check out where your SSAF dollars are going and let Prof. Baker know your thoughts at email@example.com. The deadline may be COB today, but it’s your money and you deserve a say.
Braedyn Edwards was the 2018 ANUSA Indigenous Officer and is the National President of the Union of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students. His views are entirely his own and do not reflect those of Woroni.