A.S. Council votes to table SRTV ban on nudity

    The A.S. Council voted to table indefinitely amendments to Student-Run Television’s charter, specifically a change involving the broadcast of nudity, at a meeting on Oct. 5. The move effectively rejects the proposal.

    Billy Wong/Guardian
    Curtain call:

    The change, drafted by Commissioner of Student Services Maurice Junious, would have prohibited “graphic depictions of sexual activity involving nudity.” The amendment was tabled indefinitely by consensus, with one abstention, by the A.S. Internal Committee. The council, in turn, voted to accept the committee’s recommendation.

    SRTV, funded by the council, allows indecent material, including sexual nudity, as long as it was not copyrighted and aired between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Junious’ proposals also included changing the accountability of the station from the student body to the A.S. Council, which was approved by the members.

    SRTV managers opposed the potential amendment, citing the First Amendment and free speech rights, according to Station Co-Manager Andrew Tess.

    The changes have come as a result of an incident last spring when Steve York, a former John Muir College student and editor of the Koala, aired sexual acts on the closed-circuit television station, according to Tess. Following the broadcast, the A.S. Council issued a resolution denouncing pornography on SRTV.

    “I would say the Koala was 100 percent responsible,” Tess said before the vote. “We have had that kind of content on our station before, but after Steve York’s piece, we have the council presenting these amendments. It is the name of the Koala and what [that name] brings with it.”

    Junious did not respond to requests for comment. The rejected amendments to the charter clearly violate court precedents, according to Tess, referring specifically to a provision on the Web site of the Student Press Law Center which states that, “The courts have ruled that if a school creates a student news or information medium and allows students to serve as editors, the First Amendment drastically limits the school’s ability to censor.”

    But because the council provides funding to the station, it has the right to regulate content as it pleases, according to Acting Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life Gary R. Ratcliff. The A.S. Council had consulted campus counsel Daniel W. Park, who found that content regulation was legal, Ratcliff said.

    “SRTV is a service of the A.S. Council, so the council can set whatever content guidelines it so chooses,” he said. “If A.S. decides, for example, to have the content be about news of campus developments, then it has complete latitude to do so. If A.S. decided that there should be no SRTV tomorrow, it could. It is not a violation of student policy or state law.”

    Junious drafted a proposal that the council be entitled to vote in the case the station breached its charter, which was approved. The changes to the document are necessary to establish a clear understanding of what is allowed to air, Ratcliff said.

    “You should be very surgical about changing the charter,” he said. “Once you set the rules and regulations when it comes to content, you have to administer it and uphold those rules and regulations. But by being specific, the staff who are programming for SRTV know very clearly what’s not allowed.”

    Other legal experts believed the A.S. Council did not have the right to regulate content, even though it directly funds SRTV.

    “Just because the council might provide some of the funds, in a public school context the power of the purse doesn’t translate to what the content of that forum is,” said Mike Hiestand, an attorney at the Student Press Law Center. “This is clearly content-motivated and there is no way the courts would uphold such amendments. Even if they are taking student activity fees, they’re performing a government function by doling out those funds to the station. So just funding a media source doesn’t give them the right to control content.”

    Because there is no stipulation on the student activity fees that the A.S. Council uses to fund SRTV, it may change the charter as it pleases, Ratcliff said, prior to the vote.

    “The fee is delegated to the A.S. Council, and there’s no prescription associated with that amount of money,” he said. “There was no line when the fee was made that said that the council could not regulate content of the station.”

    The move to ban instances of sexual activity involving nudity at all times may be a bit extreme, according to Thomas R. Burke, a lawyer specializing in media law.

    “Anytime there is a change in who is responsible for content and the kind of editorial content in a limited public forum, it is important to make sure the community agrees with direction it’s headed,” he said. “The language suggests that it completely forbids any sexual nudity at any time in any way. That’s inconsistent with what viewership would expect on certain occasions, since there are times that nudity is important in a storyline or vital to expression. If [the council] is reacting to one particular instance, you would think that they could address that in one way instead of a sweeping change.”

    Currently, SRTV’s charter is permissive when compared to other colleges, Ratcliff said, some of which prohibit all indecent material. A review process should be established to ensure that shows are within guidelines stated in the station’s charter, according to Ratcliff.

    “If you look at SRTV’s charter, it does not outline the procedures for reviewing programs before they are aired,” he said. “This should be addressed because this is the most common approach that college television stations use to make sure that only programs that comply with their rules and regulations are aired.”

    Legal action has always been a last resort, according to Tess. Although SRTV as an entity cannot file any lawsuits, Tess said he knows many individual SRTV members who were willing to take legal action if the council had approved the ban on graphic nudity.

    “My personal goal in this whole situation since last year was to keep it out of the administration’s hands and have the issue involve students only,” Tess said. “I know of the legal options, but I call that the big red button that says, ‘Do not push.’ But eventually, somebody always pushes it.”

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