Photo by Asyrique Thevendran/The Gazelle

Letter from the Editor: On Independence

The Gazelle is independent. This means that ultimately the team makes the decision of what to publish or not to publish. We are free to ask hard ...

Nov 15, 2014

Photo by Asyrique Thevendran/The Gazelle
The Gazelle is independent. This means that ultimately the team makes the decision of what to publish or not to publish. We are free to ask hard questions and to report on tough subjects. We are not financially reliant on the university or its sponsors. Independent is how we describe ourselves to prospective writers, to readers and to friends and family. We recognize that our independence is a privilege afforded to us because we’re NYU students, a privilege not afforded to many others. Although we don’t entirely fall under the umbrella of academic freedom, being at NYU Abu Dhabi does afford us some protective cover. Institutions matter and the creation of a free press, even in the shape of a small weekly publication at a new portal campus, is a sign of steps taken by a forward-looking country. It is in this institutional context that our sense of independence has been fostered.
As much as we enjoy our independence, we are aware that that doesn’t mean we are completely free to publish anything. No one is, anywhere, because “freedom” depends on context. In Mexico, at this very moment, the press is in crisis. Although there are no explicitly restrictive media laws, the fear caused by cartels and armed syndicates stops many from writing what is truly happening on the ground. Still, some brave souls venture on and write under pen names and pseudonyms, sleeping uneasily at night knowing that any day they might be disappeared just as many before them have. I have the privilege, at this geographical remove, to speak of and denounce what the government’s people did to the Ayotzinpa students. I can say that things are far from solved, and I can speak of my indignation at the senselessness of a mounting death toll. I am free to speak on this issue without consequence in the UAE, far from the harm my own words can cause me if I speak or write them back home.
In The Gazelle’s case, we yield certain freedoms because we are committed to follow the press laws of the UAE. Independence, much like power, comes with responsibility. We are responsible to our readers and our school to report truthfully and thoroughly on what matters and what needs saying. We try to hold up a mirror to the university and show it for what it is — both good and bad. But there’s another responsibility that is seldom talked about. As Editor-in-Chief, I have a responsibility to my writers, to make sure they are safe without a shadow of a doubt, and to my fellow editors and our host country, to make sure that we’re not crossing legal limits of expression in our local context.
A couple of weeks ago, our Faith and Belief Issue included an article that was published anonymously. We decided to publish the article, which dealt on a personal story of leaving religion, because we thought it added a relevant and new perspective on the issue of faith. Soon after its publication, we were contacted by the administration. We were informed, in no uncertain terms, that the article could be interpreted as a breach of the press laws of the UAE and as such the writer, if found, could be in a difficult position. We could have kept the article, but a writer’s safety will always come first.
The Gazelle pushes boundaries. Sometimes that means falling on the wrong side of the line. But part of being a student-journalist is learning and this episode has made us even more aware of the fact that we have to consciously deal with the nuances of the delicate position in which we are.
One might consider this an act of censorship, but The Gazelle is in the position of being responsible both to the needs of readers and writers. The Gazelle is a forum for expression and debate but it cannot be ignorant of both the legal and the cultural contexts in which it, and the university, are embedded. I feel responsible for you, the reader, but also for The Gazelle and my staff, who work tirelessly to make this a publication to be proud of.
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