Library Walk screening of Berg beheading canceled

    Students who planned to show the video depicting the beheading of American civilian Nicholas Berg on Library Walk decided against doing so on May 25, while another student, who was informed by Earl Warren College administration that he could not screen the video on Warren College Television, plans to show it on Student Run Television.

    Thurgood Marshall College sophomore Ariel Mor had reserved space on Library Walk for the display through the Israel Action Committee student organization but withdrew his reservation after being informed of potential liability by Assistant Director of Student Organizations Marcia A. Strong.

    A group of Mor’s friends attempted to show the video on two televisions despite Mor’s cancelation. As they set up, university officials asked them to remove the equipment and leave or face disciplinary action.

    “[Strong] called me in the morning and asked me whether I wanted to cancel to avoid any potential liability,” Mor said. “The school never tried to cancel on us. The school was not the bad one here. We talked to the administration about it and what the best course of action was, and I decided not to do it.”

    Mor said he felt that media coverage of the event was excessive and that it was one of the reasons he canceled. The San Diego Union-Tribune published a story about the event on May 25, prompting several local television stations to send reporters and camera crews to cover the screening.

    “After the media started calling my house, I decided it was blown way out of proportion,” Mor said. “I didn’t want anyone to talk to the media. I just wanted people to see what I was doing.”

    Mor intended to promote awareness about the war in Iraq and provide students with a means of viewing the video, according to Mor’s friends.

    “Unfortunately, the American population, including a lot of students, doesn’t have access to [the video], are ignoring it and just haven’t seen it,” said Evan Epstein, a John Muir College senior who attempted to screen the video. “So, to formulate your opinions on what’s actually happening — no matter what your opinion may be: pro-war or against war — you’re entitled to your opinion; you need as much evidence as you can.”

    Mor had called the event “pro-American,” and intended to rally support for American troops.

    News of the event prompted a UCSD staff member to protest the event.

    “I’m out here today to protest the motivation behind showing the video of the beheading of Nick Berg,” said Glen Motil, a library assistant and Gulf War veteran. “[Berg’s father] is an anti-war activist and he would be appalled that this is used to promote war, which was the clear point of view of this group.”

    According to Aguilar, the individuals removed their equipment immediately after they were approached by university officials.

    “They acknowledged that they didn’t have an approved reservation on file and they removed their equipment,” Aguilar said.

    Mor supported the university’s decision.

    “The school did everything right,” Mor said. “They allowed us to make the reservation. Marcia [Strong] was great, Nick Aguilar was great.”

    Aguilar said that the display’s content had no bearing on the decision to shut it down.

    “It was determined that in the context of that display, it was intended to convey a political message,” Aguilar said. “It was protected under the First Amendment. We therefore would have no basis or interest in censoring speech on this campus. As long as the content is not clearly illegal, such as defamation, our policy does not take the content as a factor in determining whether to approve or disapprove the use.”

    While some students expressed discomfort about showing the video on Library Walk, other students supported the right of the organizers to display the video.

    “I haven’t actually seen the video,” said Marshall sophomore Jennifer Cho, whose booth recruiting summer resident advisers was adjacent to the screens. “I kind of don’t want to see it. My table was closer down there, and I moved it down here because I don’t want to think about it.”

    Earl Warren College junior Jacob Rupp felt that students should see the video and called for the students to show it.

    “I think it’s a real shame that it wasn’t broadcast,” Rupp said. “The campus needs to see what’s going on in the world today, and a visual representation that they made of the barbarity that’s going on is the only way people can understand why we’re over there … I hope that the people who put this on will persevere and show it.”

    The Israel Action Committee has no affiliation with the San Diego Israel Alliance.

    On May 26, Warren administration officials informed Warren junior Daniel Watts that he would not be allowed to screen the video on his weekly Warren College Television show “Perfect Vision,” on May 27 as he had planned.

    Watts previously showed a clip from the video on his show, which airs live, on May 13, and the Union-Tribune reported on May 26 that he was planning to show the video again.

    “It’s important to understand that unlike Library Walk, WCTV is a learning library owned by Warren, run by Residential Life, with strong support from its student staff, but there are rules and regulations to be followed,” Warren College Dean Jeff Philpott said.

    Philpott said these rules include college policies that WCTV material should not include any “lewd, indecent or shocking” material. Students participating in the station don’t agree to these in writing but the policies are “expressly” agreed to, as with the UCSD Student Handbook, according to Philpott.

    Watts claims that he has never seen any codified guidelines for the station, and that the closed-circuit cable station does not have to follow Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

    According to the Student Press Law Center, courts have ruled that if a school creates a television station and allows students to serve as its editors, the First Amendment “drastically limits the school’s ability to censor,” and prohibits prior review, removing objectionable material and suspending editors.

    “I found it ironic that so much media attention was given to something that didn’t even happen,” Watts said, referring to Mor’s plan. “People were expecting to see it, so it was something that was important to campus debate.”

    Watts plans to broadcast his show on SRTV instead of WCTV at 11 p.m. on May 27.

    Warren Residential Life Dean Clare Palmer said she will conduct a review of Watts’ May 13 WCTV show. She said she was unaware Watts screened clips of the video in question.

    “I was absolutely livid,” Palmer said. “I need some answers about what happened two weeks ago, and it will take a few days of going through this with a fine-toothed comb to understand this.”

    WCTV, like SRTV, serves the entire campus as well as Thornton Hospital and the Preuss School.

    [Ed. Note: Daniel Watts is the Opinion Editor of the Guardian.]

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