The Arizona Desert Lamp

How fee money threatens an independent press

Posted in Campus, Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 16 April 2009

Censorship, brought to you by Student FeesIn the comments of this post, Arizona Media Chair Mark Woodhams pushed back against the notion that taking student services fee money would compromise the paper’s independence:

In any event, there is no precedent that the Wildcat’s journalistic independence will be compromised because of this fee. Many, if not most, major college dailies receive a fee (or subscription subsidy), in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. There are even college dailies organized as 501c3 non-profit corporations — legally independent from the university — that receive student fees. A sampling of some of the larger college dailies in the country shows that, on average, 15% of their annual revenue comes from a subsidy. The Wildcat’s amount comes to about 4%. Whether you get a fee or not, the constitution still protects free expression, and the state is not sovereign of all that it owns.

If UT-Austin is any indicator, though, this is far too sanguine a view:

The Election Reform Task Force decided Monday night that The Daily Texan should not be allowed to endorse candidates during student elections because the newspaper receives student-fee money.

 

The group said such endorsements, which are published on the opinion page, force candidates to monetarily support their opposition because every student is required to pay fees. In 2007 and 2008, about $320,000 of the newspaper’s $2.6 million in revenues came from student-fee money.

“In trying to make these elections as fair and as on an even playing field as possible, you can’t expect another candidate who didn’t get endorsed and who pays student fees to in some ways pay for something that is detrimental to their campaign,” said Carly Castetter, a University-wide representative present at the meeting.

 

This link is courtesy of College Media Matters, who rightly decries the decision as a censorial measure. As a fan of the Wildcat, I would hope it doesn’t come to this; at the same time, it’s hard not to see the karma police lurking behind the curtains. Given ASUA’s tendency against basic Constitutional freedoms, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a similar move made here in Tucson.

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6 Responses

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 16 April 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Next year, writers will probably have to attend “sensitivity training” at the Wildcat.

  2. mark woodhams said, on 16 April 2009 at 8:11 pm

    Yeah, but that’s just what the committee proposes. I would hope that such a concept would not stand up in court, if it got that far. Anymore than making Ms. Donovan take “sensitivity training” would hold up as a condition of employment. I suppose if such conditions — not being able to endorse student leaders– were placed on the Wildcat editors, they would reject it outright, happily. On this, I think we would all agree. The fee issue is a distraction, as I suggested in my comment. Even at Texas, which has a terrific student paper and tradition of success. (But you also have to understand that the editor of the Daily Texan is elected by a student-wide vote, like a student body president). Fees can be messy, no question about it. And the path is littered with the kinds of battles that you suggest — though, at public universities, usually won by the student press.

  3. mark woodhams said, on 16 April 2009 at 8:19 pm

    and for balance, read this
    http://www.dailytexanonline.com/viewpoint-don-t-mess-with-the-press-1.1715085

  4. mattstyer said, on 17 April 2009 at 3:19 pm

    In most developed democracies, there is at least one public broadcasting channel that also does news. They certainly don’t suffer from objectivity problems to the same extent we do. By international standards, PBS in our country is a fairly weak public broadcasting channel; the BBC is a prime example. Neither country is worse off for having such broadcasting.

  5. A. Hill said, on 18 April 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Yeah, just based on what I’ve seen of the way various controversies, in particular the cartoon fracases, have played out at the Wildcat, I’m guessing that if it ever came down to ASUA demanding something of them in exchange for funds, the Wildcat would tell them exactly where they could stick that money.

  6. Evan Lisull said, on 20 April 2009 at 10:19 am

    First three at Matt:

    1) Given all of our coverage regarding university governance, would the UA’s really qualify as a “developed democracy”?

    2) Even accepting that, there already exists a public broadcasting channel that does news – UATV. We also have UANews, which performs a similar function. And while these services are occasionally useful, they are also rather agitprop-y.

    3) The BBC is nice, but it is the exception rather than the rule; for every BBC, you have three Cubavisions. As far as objectivity goes, this is aided by the fact that they don’t provide endorsements or opinions of any kind – these are reserved for the Guardian or the Times, those strange publications that operate without so much as a government dime. This seems to imply that opinions and endorsements are “objectivity problems” – which, incidentally, is exactly what the SG commission is arguing.

    4) To all of you – the confidence is nice, but it seems rather Panglossian. This argument that the paper will always win is akin to saying that we shouldn’t worry about wiretapping policies in the Patriot Act, because everybody knows that the Constitution defends against unreasonable search and seizure, and that this principle will be upheld in court. It’s all good and well, until it isn’t.


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