Ructions

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In the summer of 2004, YSTV went through much upheaval when the newly elected Station Director was subjected to a vote of no-confidence just weeks after his election. The series of events became known by some as 'Ructions' after an initial email regarding the dispute which triggered the problems was sent with the title "Prepare for ructions". The story goes something like this...

Note: The initial text of this article was written by two active members of YSTV during this period, however the subject matter is highly charged. Becuase of this we have waited until all the main players in this saga have left the University of York. The article has been reviewed by as many as possible of the people who were members at the time, and every effort has been made to ensure that this article is a statement of facts and nothing more, however others who were there at the time are invited to correct or contradict where they feel appropriate. The intention is certainly not to discredit or criticise anyone as a person, merely to describe the events of the time as they affected YSTV, including some of the underlying problems.

Background

Leading up to the YSTV committee elections in 2004 three friends, all fairly new to YSTV, were considering standing for important roles. They were Jen Ayerst, James Flinders and Rowan de Pomerai. Rowan briefly thought about standing for Production Director, Studio Manager or Station Director. As Jen stood for Production Director, Rowan went for Studio Manager and James for Station Director. Jen's production interests made this the logical position for her, and while Rowan considered the leader role, he decided against on the basis that (a) James wanted to run and wasn't so keen on Studio Manager, and (b) he could run for it in his third year if he desired. All three were successfully elected to these posts. James unfortunately was in Canada for some timeUnverified or incomplete information following the AGM, and so Rowan, as new Studio Manager, was left as acting Station Director. Not a lot of note happened during this time in YSTV itself. Generally YSTV was doing well, having increased its membership considerably thanks to the efforts of the Gang of Four, having had its most successful NaSTA ever and having made the place look better due to the recent YSTV Clean-Up, which had also brought people together.

Problems In YSTV

URY In Bars

The first problems came due to the debate over the playout of URY in campus bars, long an ambition of the radio station. Whilst out of the country, James had been in contact with Tim Bateson and Matt Fullerton of URY (who was not an active member of YSTV at this point) about proposed plans for URY to be broadcast in campus bars using Rediffusion. James had responded on behalf of YSTV stating that "it would be unfair for URY to be allowed to broadcast in campus bars", not unreasonably suggesting that it would cut off YSTV's main distribution medium.Richard Ash contacted a number of active members forwarding on the previous correspondence. Richard also sent a message to URY pointing out that the initial response had been without internal consultation, something that any major decision such as this would require. Whilst few would doubt James had good intentions, his methods were seen as somewhat undemocratic and not in the spirit a democratic society. Richard later apologised if he had overstepped the mark in regards to his authority as a new Technical Director, although few thought this was the case.

YSTV Corporate Style

Another move was to suggest the introduction of a 'YSTV Corporate Style' on emails, initially sent to team leaders. This was poorly received by most due to appearing slightly patronising, even if presumably well-intentioned, and also due to it being apparently in response to YSTV's "poor image" on campus - something that was certainly debatable if not also bad for station morale. In addition there were concerns that voluntary members of a society were being told to do something without consultation or debate and also worries about multiple references to YSTV's structure as if it were a hirearchy of command to be followed to the letter (such as "listing officers in order of seniority"). Finally there were instructions on basic punctuation and grammar, something that few if any members had problems with. Once again it wasn't doubted that the intention was simply to improve the image of the station (which had certainly had its problems in preceding years), just that the methods used were misguided and at odds with the casual and team-oriented style of YSTV organisation and management.

The Constitution

James responded to the criticism about his handling of the URY in bars issue with another email to the "people" list, using the constitution to defend his actions. It was his opinion that the document did not include any guidance as to how the society should make decisions, or forbid him from doing so alone should he see fit. At the time (and probably the case through most of YSTV's history) the constitution existed as a set of guidelines and some protection against negligence on the part of the officership. To use it as a means-to-an-end or as justification for one's actions was not a common action, and the use of the constitution in this manner was not well received. When this was brought up he mentioned an example of a decision he made to relinquish the shared office in Vanbrugh college, which he took after consulation with senior officers but made the eventual decision himself. He said he saw decisions like this as part of his remit and that he would continue to make decisions like this in the society's interest. This was seen as not only confrontational but unncessarily defensive given that such "disputes" in recent history of YSTV would normally be settled over a pint in Goodricke bar, not by using the constitution as a defence.

It was at this point real concerns began to emerge about the choice the society had made for Station Director, given that the issues highlighted were unlikely to go away. Richard Ash and Rowan de Pomerai both voiced their concerns directly via email, with Rowan in particular concerned about how defensive he was becoming and the lack of consultation from him over major issues. In response James repeatedly stated it was his job to uphold the constitution - something that had rarely troubled previous Station Directors who had been more concerned with making telly and attracting new members. Richard subsequently proposed an ammendment to the constitution to clarify matters as a result of the earlier uncertainty over the Station Director role. His intention appeared to be simply to avoid problems in the future however it may have been seen as a direct response to the arguments taking place at the time. This was proposed and failed because of questions over the wording of the amendment. It was agreed to correct these and return to the matter as most agreed some clarification was needed in the constitution on this matter, but other events overtook it, and the matter never needed to be re-visited.

Leadership Style

In reponse to some of the criticism he was receiving James stated that he felt that his position involved more than just "sending e-mails and chairing meetings", however some other officers felt that essentially the Station Director job is indeed centred mainly around communication and people management rather than making the big decisions. This sentiment became a running joke in later years, with 2006/07 Station Director Matthew Tole saying "I have none of the power, but all of the responsbility". This disagreement was perhaps the crux of the issues which eventually led to the no confidence vote, which is a shame as such disagreements appear to have been few and far between in recent YSTV history, with most debates focussing on how to improve the reach, image or output of the station rather than how it is run.

There were also concerns over how the station was being "run" after James' election. As alluded to above far more emphasis was being placed on the mechanics and politics of the constituion than previously, the station meetings became argumentative and tense (and lengthy, as described below) and the general feeling was that the place was becoming much more politicised than previously. This may not have been necessarily due to the approach James took, but certainly seemed more than a coincidence. It was also suspected that he viewed the role more as if chairing one of the campus political groups than that of a student media society, and this was seen in his great prescence and emphasis on meetings and email but not that often in the station itself getting involved in productions.

Meeting Length

One suggestion James made was that meetings should be shorter. He suggested that some people had been put off by the sometimes lengthy technical discussions that took place and never returned. This was certainly a valid point although perhaps no different to what always happens when new members decide how heavily they wish to be involved. Station meetings in May/June 2004 certainly were sometimes quite long, however this was immediately after the election of a large number of new officers who all had their ideas on how to run the society, and after a couple of terms of fairly short meetings where the Gang of Four were largely running the station alone. There was also no evidence that the length of meetings was doing anything to put off the core of active members who has been with the station all year. However, suggestions such as stand-up meetings or a rigid 30 minute time limit were rejected by many as too strong a reaction, and contributed (perhaps unfairly) to the image that the new Station Director was not taking enough issues to the membership and instead taking key decisions himself.

Vote of No-Confidence

(Repeatedly referred to as a vote of confidence by James, presumably due to his politics background where this term is used. However in YSTV's constitution, and in the meeting where the vote was held, it was referred to as a vote of No Confidence - i.e. a 'for' vote was to remove James and an 'against' vote was for him to retain his position.)

Build-Up

By around week 6 of the summer term some members were talking about leaving the society to avoid the politics and in-fighting or because they didn't like the way the station was being run. The following day, James sent an email to officers asking if he had their support. By his own figures, 7 out of 11 people said he had their full confidence, with the rest preferring not to respond. However the definition of "full confidence" was debated as there had not yet been a single incident that warranted such a statement, with the style of leadership more a general concern. It also put officers in an uncessarily uncomfortable position by having to proclaim their support or feel they were "dissenting" and thereby causing problems themselves. In short it was not something that was really in the spirit of YSTV.

Decision To Call A Vote

The decision had not come easily, and was always a last resort. Much private debate (mainly via group MSN conversation) centred around this decision and the likely implications. Calling a vote which would subsequently fail would be disastrous. It would split the station in two and undermine James just as the new academic year with the associated recruitment drive was looming. Finding a consensus was important, yet asking people how they would vote in a hypothetical poll was difficult. There was much debate about who would propose a vote given the likely atmosphere should the vote fail, so Ed Jellard volunteered to do this at least in part because he would not be in York the following year and in any case was gradually moving towards spending more time in Ents over YSTV, but still felt strongly about what was happening to the society in which he had spent most of the previous two years. It was seconded by Richard Ash. There was also the question of who would take over as Station Director should the vote succeed, and over the need to ideally get this procedure started before the summer break due to the need to present a united image to the freshers arriving in October. Once those proposing the vote had satisfied themselves that it was the right thing to do, they submitted the request.

The Vote Itself

An EGM was called to discuss and take the vote of no-confidence on Thursday 10th June 2004 following transmission of YSTV Week. It took place in G/020 and was attended by virtually everyone who was involved in the station in some form, as well as some others (see later).

An impartial chair was needed, and as such Chris Thornton was chosen as he would soon be leaving the society, and had been away from York and out of contact with the station on an industrial placement since January and so had no knowledge of the disputes at all. It was widely regarded that he did a good job, keeping things in order and keeping things moving whilst ensuring everyone got their fair say. The only criticism which has been levelled at him was in regard to a discourse he gave at the end of the meeting, where he expressed his justifiable disappointment at the state in which he had found YSTV on his return, however many felt that he implied everyone had all immediately turned to in-fighting without proper justification. It was pointed out that had he seen YSTV earlier in the term, he would have seen a happy and united society working together on a variety of projects. However, overall, he was a wise choice of chair.

Without minutes of the meeting to publish it would be unfair to attempt to recall the specifics of what was discussed many years later, however considering its subject matter the meeting was satisfactory if lengthy. Generally the discussion was formal, avoided personal insult, and provided a reasoned discussion on recent behaviour and James' actions since becoming Station Director. The discussion did get heated when reference was made to the legitimacy of some of the attendees. Jen Ayerst pointed out that two members (in fact housemates of James) had turned up to the meeting having not been seen around YSTV recently, and it was implied that they had turned up simply to help swing the vote his way, and that they had not seen his actions from a YSTV perspective. One of these people suggested that people did not realise the amount of effort that James put in to YSTV, and that he worked a lot at home on YSTV-related matters. The response to this was that James' effort was not in question, rather his leadership style and decisions.

The vote was not unanimous, but there was a clear majority and the motion was passed. James stood down as Station Director, and Chris Thornton suggested that previous Station Director Dave Baker should stand in temporarily. Dave was also largely uninvolved in the debate partly because James was due to live with him the following academic year, so he was seen as a fair choice of interim leader. It was widely regarded that most attendees of the meeting behaved well, including those who did not agree with each other, and that all sides were well-argued.

The Aftermath

Dave kept the post over the summer holidays. On the first day of the following term an election was held, with Rowan having been nominated. He stated in the meeting that if he were to take on the post he would need the support of the officership. He aimed to ensure that YSTV pulled together as a team again, and was duly elected. He served as Station Director for the rest of 2004/5, which was widely seen to be a very successful for year for the station, culminating in the winning of Highly Commended Best Broadcaster at NaSTA 2005 in Loughborough.

James left the society, although to his credit he attended the YUMAs the following week. He went on to become chair of Halifax College, and returned to YSTV the following year in this position as a panellist on Bona Dicta. Finally he stood unsuccessfully for YUSU President in March 2007 before graduating from York that summer.

The period between the AGM and EGM of No-Confidence was just four week and three days, however it's fair to say it felt like longer for those involved. It is hoped that future members, who have either heard the tale from those who were there or by reading this account, will learn from the mistakes made on all sides during that period, and avoid the politicised in-fighting that made Summer 2004 such an uncomfortable period.