Throughout its history, Honi Soit, the student newspaper of USYD with elected editors, has never been far from controversy. Recently, this has surrounded proposed changes to the SRC regulations and other recent attempts which affect the ability of the paper to have absolute control over its content. It was met with significant backlash. Honi Soit is an institutional part of student life at USYD and generations of students, though in increasingly smaller numbers, continue to read it.
The name of the paper is shortened from the French phrase “honi soit qui mal y pense” – shame upon him who thinks evil of it. In modern usage, it has come to refer to those who act with a hidden agenda. So it is with Honi Soit. The paper ostensibly seeks to hold elected bodies to account and to publish thought-provoking, albeit progressive, articles. But its agenda is far more sinister.
Honi Soit is on a search and destroy mission for students who do not ascribe to its extremist views published every week. The paper seeks not to win the battle of ideas, but to destroy the name, character and careers of students. The paper seeks to wield influence by frightening mainstream students from expressing genuinely held, reasonable opinions. Its preferred weapon is trial by media. Its ammunition, student fees.
To be fair, during my time at USYD, there have been several quite excellent editors. While of the Left, these contributors published content which was interesting and informative, knew when balance was appropriate and, to their credit, uncovered serious issues at the university. But these are few and far between.
Late last year, I met an Honi Soit editor who contributed to the paper during the Vietnam war. At that time there was strong opposition to the war on campus. Yet he, and other editors, travelled to Vietnam and were issued press passes to travel on any US plane. They caught whichever plane was leaving the airbase and covered the war from the front line.
How far the paper has fallen from its heyday. During my time at USYD, I have seen Honi Soit place pictures of a Palestinian suicide bomber on its front page, plaster photos of genitalia on its cover, engage in anti-religious fanaticism, and publish openly pro-DPRK propaganda. I have always been a strong advocate for and defend the right of Honi Soit to publish this trash – I have even voted as such in the SRC. Yet despite a commitment to freedom of speech, all students must mourn and call out the appalling standard of journalism which marks the majority of ink coming from the Honi Soit printing press.
Honi Soit has lost touch with the ordinary student. It characterises views which the majority of Australians hold (as demonstrated by the overwhelming rejection of Labor’s ambitiously progressive agenda over the weekend!) as somehow unthinkable. It is trapped in the USYD bubble.
I agree that the recent proposed SRC regulation changes and recent attempts to change the content of the paper went too far. They stifle the free speech of the paper. But who can blame these students whose names are subject to the weekly biased brutality of the Honi Soit feature section. Honi Soit should conduct itself in a manner which is befitting of its long and esteemed history. Perhaps then the students of today would agree: honi soit qui mal y pense.