The dismissal of a student media editor at the Adelaide University Union late last year raised some serious concerns regarding the independence of student media in Australia, namely; what powers does a student union have over their student publication?
In mid-September 2022, the Adelaide University Student Union (known as YouX) decided to remove student editor Habibah Jaghoori, who had been outspoken against the right-wing student union. However, the final straw for the YouX Board was an article entitled For Palestine, there is no ceasefire.
Jaghoori, who was outspoken throughout her term against the YouX’s conservative leadership, was removed after publishing the article in response to a series of strikes against Palestinian civilians.
When asked about the dismissal process, Jaghoori told Glass that an independent committee presented a report to the YouX Board.
“I was removed by the right-wing YouX board, who voted in favour of the independent committee’s report about me,” Jaghoori said.
“Eight out of ten of my issues had already been published, and Issue 9 was at the final stages of publication. The far-right YouX board president [at the time] Oscar Ong had a history of removing any democratically elected student unionist and now student media from their position.”
A part of the justification for Jaghoori’s dismissal was published in the YouX Board’s August meeting minutes, in which Ong expressed disappointment with the article’s publication.
“There has been a significant impact on student welfare due to the article written by On Dit editor, Habibah,” Ong is quoted as having said in the meeting minutes.
“I moved to establish the independent committee shortly after to investigate the matter and I thank the speedy response from directors in concurring with my motion.”
The minutes stated that Habibah has been invited to come to the meeting in person, and that Ong had several discussions with the university on the matter.
The Adelaide University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Anton Middelberg, also included a comment from Ong in an email to all students.
“Oscar Ong, President of YouX, is supportive of the concerns raised about the article and will raise these directly with the On Dit editorial team with a view to establishing better editorial practices in the future,” the email read.
When asked for comment on the dismissal, a YouX media spokesperson said the organisation had nothing “further to add at this time”, and sent Glass to the Union’s formal statement and FAQs on the issue.
A statement from the YouX board said, “Following a detailed investigation and referral from the YouX Student Media Independent Committee, the YouX Board has made the decision to remove Adelaide University Student Media Director, Habibah Jaghoori from her position as an On Dit Editor effective immediately”.
“The Student Media Independent Committee which convened at the request of the YouX Board, found that her recent public conduct would reasonably be perceived by any fair-minded person to be threatening the welfare of students at our University.”
“It is important to clarify that this finding is not against her article For Palestine, there is No Ceasefire, the investigation specifically related to her conduct and behaviour since the article’s publication.”
“Despite numerous opportunities to clarify her position and dispel any misinterpretation, she has continued to use language in public forums that can be clearly construed to support actions that could threaten the welfare of students.”
“The Committee respects and supports the editorial independence of On Dit Editors and does not seek to censor or influence the publication in any way.”
“The findings of the Committee are in relation to the continued and sustained behaviour of the Editor in question and the manner in which she has chosen to push her point of view in the public domain.”
The committee comprised of two YouX executives and a Student Care representative, and voted unanimously in favour of Jaghoori’s dismissal.
“This decision is in no way an attempt to censor or undermine the independence of On Dit,” the Union’s FAQ page stated.
“On Dit may continue to write and publish content, views and opinions on any issues it wishes.”
The decision of the Committee and YouX Board specifically related to how the point of view was put across and the conduct of the individual in promoting that message.
But Jaghoori maintained she never breached any Union rules.
“On Dit has editorial independence,” she told Glass. “I breached no constitution or rules.”
“Even the findings of the report from the independent committee stated that my article breached no student media director rules. The reason I was given for my removal was due to my ‘conduct’ after the publication of my article.”
“When I asked for clarification and further explanation, I was denied it.”
Jaghoori and her co-editors were publicly criticised by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, who said On Dit “should be ashamed for running the piece”. The publication of the article also coincided with a recent wave of anti-semetism in Adelade, including a Neo-Nazi group’s public salute outside the Adelaide Holocaust Museum–Steiner Education Centre.
When invited to the YouX Board meeting to defend herself, Jaghoori said she asked for a copy of the committee’s report, which was also denied.
“At the meeting I was continuously threatened with being kicked out when I was defending myself from all the invited Zionists who were attacking me personally. The only student who called me racist was Zionist and 2023 SRC Postgraduate officer elect … who declared any and all criticism of Israel as racist speech.”
The Australasian Union of Jewish Students were also in favour of Jaghoori’s dismissal.
“We thank all those who listened to and stood alongside Jewish students and ensured that their voices were heard,” the AUJS said in a statement.
“Habibah called for ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Glory to the Intifada’, among other racist and hateful comments.”
“This language and behaviour went far beyond acceptable political discourse – calling for violence and death rather than peace, dialogue and constructive criticism of Israel, rightly has no place on university campus.”
Medium, the online publisher that hosts On Dit‘s website, has since removed the article.
Jaghoori says the Adelaide University campus is host to many Zionist students, who have been ‘ruthless’ in their opposition to pro-Palestinian speech.
“[They] ruthlessly try and shut down any and all pro-Palestine speech because raising awareness about Palestine and extending solidarity to Palestine is standing in opposition to the genocidal and apartheid policies they support.
“The ethnic cleansing that Israel commits against Palestinians happens in more than one way.”
Jaghoori expressed this sentiment of solidarity in the article by signing off with, ‘Death to Israel,’ which she defended when speaking to Glass.
“A Zionist is someone who believes in their ownership of Palestinian land because of the bible, and if achieving it means ethnic cleansing, land theft, illegal settlements, genocide, and apartheid, then it is justified [to them].
“Adelaide Uni as an institution is run like a business and it has very destructive ties to weapons companies that kill Palestinians, but Adelaide Uni staff and students are pro-Palestine as stated more than once by the democratically elected SRC this year.”
Jaghoori also posted a statement in response to article’s backlash after being removed.
“I pay my deepest respect to all the journalists and all the pro-Palestinian martyrs who have been killed by the genocidal and apartheid state of Israel,” Jaghoori said.
“Being an editor of On Dit is an honour and a privilege but more importantly it is a responsibility. I wrote my recent article on Palestine, and I signed it off with ‘Death to Israel’. As I said in tonight’s UofA SRC meeting, I will never apologise for my opposition to Israel and my solidarity with Palestine. Young Liberal Henry Southcott’s motion against me failed and rightfully so. ‘Death to Israel’ means death to the occupation, death to the ongoing genocide, the ethnic cleansing, the settlements and the war criminal [Israeli Defense Forces].”
“Take all of that away and Israel ceases to exist.”
Her dismissal ultimately came as a result of her ‘conduct’ during the investigation into the article. Media outlets around Australia picked up the story of her dismissal.
“My name, pictures, and social media were plastered all over their outlets,” she said. “Sky News featured me and my tweets in their show.”
“Fighting for the freedom of Palestine is a moral duty and these low-brow, defamatory and racist media attacks have not intimidated me.”
The heated political nature of Jaghoori’s dismissal has tended to overshadow a broader issue; censorship of student publications. Reflecting on the student media landscape in 2023, the warning signs of union interference trending towards censorship have been bubbling for a while now.
Vertigo, the student publication of the University of Technology Sydney, saw its funding cut by half at the behest of the University. Although not dismissed, the former Chief Editor of Semper Floreat at the University of Queensland, Billie Kugelman, was censured by the UQ Union along with the Union President after publishing an article called The Subtle Art of Shoplifting. Earlier this year, hundreds of copies of the annual queer edition of Honi Soit, the University of Sydney student publication, were stolen or thrown in bins around campus, with clear intent to censor this specific edition.
Jaghoori says that she will, “continue to use [her] voice and extend solidarity to Palestine” despite all moves against her. But the ability of a university or Student Union to so comprehensively silence its student publication will continue to be an issue across the country.