Endangered Press

Erik Jepsen/Guardian

The A.S. Council’s Wednesday meeting will have a few extra visitors this week, when representatives from student publications — including the Muir Quarterly, the Koala and Mania Magazine — will turn out to protest the passage of new “media guidelines” that would require each publication to be sponsored by a university representative.

According to A.S. Director of Media Relations Rose Eveleth, student organizations are concerned that the proposal would restrict the growth of new magazines and newspapers across campus, and that the introduction of mandatory staff oversight could pose a serious threat to free speech.

Associate Vice President of Student Organizations Andrew Ang, who began drafting the proposal in November, insisted that the main purpose of the media guidelines would be to “enhance” the quality of campus publications by way of faculty connections.

Many others — particularly, Koala editor in chief Kris Gregorian — see the proposal as a way to try and cut funding for the Koala.

In September, the Koala published a controversial article about UCSD student Leon Roach, who died over the summer in a pole-vaulting accident. Several councilmembers attempted to pass a resolution that would cut funding for the Koala, but were discouraged by other members worried the interjection would infringe on free speech.

“[The proposal is] definitely directed at the Koala,” Gregorian said. “What is the purpose of this? What is its benefit? They’ve tried to get rid of us in the past, and this is just a sneakier way to do it.”

Eveleth, who helped draft the proposal, agreed with Gregorian.

“The purpose of the legislation is to get rid of the Koala,” Eveleth said. “The A.S. Council will try to tell you otherwise, but I’m not buying it.”

Gregorian said that when he and his staff heard about the new guidelines, their first move was to obtain a faculty sponsor — Fred Driscoll of the UCSD physics department.

Ang denied the proposal was drafted in an attempt to cut the Koala’s funds.

“This is not about the Koala; this is not about any other magazine,” Ang said. “Maybe this came at a time when, you know, what the Koala did — maybe this came at that same time. But these media guidelines have not been touched in years … We want to make sure that we’re covering our grounds, and that everything is addressed.”

However, in an e-mail sent by Ang to councilmembers on Jan. 21, he wrote that the proposal was in response to unnamed “incidents” that occurred during Fall Quarter.

According to Gregorian, various legal organizations — including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Student Press Law Center — have voiced disapproval of the proposal, and have confirmed it could pose a threat to free speech.

“Just because they pass a law that isn’t obviously censorship [because it] applies to everybody, if it’s targeted at a specific organization, then it’s definitely considered censorship,” Gregorian said.

Drafted by Ang, Campuswide Senator Adam Kenworthy, Campuswide Senator Tobias Haglund, Revelle Senator Jaclyn Storey and Marshall Senator Brian McEuen, the guidelines would require every campus media organization to obtain “sponsorship” from a college, academic department or nonacademic department like the Alumni Association.

After the arrangement was signed off by a department chair or college dean, a faculty member would serve in an “advisory” capacity to the student organization. In return, the department would be allowed a one-page, A.S.-funded advertisement.

Student publications unable to secure a departmental sponsor would no longer be eligible to receive funds from the A.S. Council.

According to Ang, a faculty advisor would be an asset to any publication, and could help students obtain quotes and information from university staff more easily — thus improving relations between student publications and the administration.

Though Kenworthy — who helped draft the proposal — said he has reservations about the legislation in its current form, he agreed that departmental resources could benefit smaller publications in need of guidance.

“The whole idea is to sort of enrich the quality of reporting,” Kenworthy said. “We have a lot of magazines that would do well to pair with departments.”

However, Kenworthy expressed hesitations

According to Eveleth, several organizations — as well as potential faculty representatives — are concerned that the stipulation would infringe upon free speech at UCSD.

“All the [faculty] I’ve talked to have expressed that they’re worried about this legislation. Not only from a freedom-of-speech position — in terms of how a department head is going to want some kind of oversight over what they’re signing off on and sponsoring — but also from a logistics standpoint,” Eveleth said. “There is not a single [organization] that is supporting it.”

In an anonymous Fall Quarter survey sent out by Eveleth to 21 publications on campus, students expressed concern over the A.S. Council’s proposed intervention.

“With regard to staff oversight, I believe that student publications are not intended to represent anyone but the people publishing it,” one anonymous response read. “We exist so that we can express ourselves fully. If we can’t, then we may as well stop publishing. Moreover, I believe that this right extends to all publications, regardless of content.”

Ang said such concerns are unfounded.

“There have been arguments about free speech, but I really don’t see how this relates to free speech,” Ang said. “We’re not telling them what they can write [or] what they can’t write. And the advisors, the university employees, will be there to just advise them — to help them better their writing.”

Kenworthy said he participated in the drafting of the proposal due to his concern over the A.S. Council’s responsibility to spend student fees on quality publications that reflect the desires of the student body.

“You have two sides to the argument,” Kenworthy said. “You have one side that says, you have to allow free speech in all its forms … [But] on the other hand … if we put student money toward something that students don’t want on this campus, then that’s not very responsible of us. Whether or not, legally, we’re responsible for what’s published, we still fund it, and I think that’s a burden on us. There was just a call to have a higher standard of the quality of what’s published.”

According to Eveleth, who met with the editors of several different newspapers and magazines, students are worried that the proposal could be an additional roadblock for new publications.

“They’re all very concerned that it’s going to make it much more difficult for them to function as a publication, and some of them… are worried about surviving the year, if it does get passed,” Eveleth said.

Nicole Teixeira, editor in chief of the Muir Quarterly, agreed.

“As much as I would support getting the Koala off A.S. funding, to do it with this proposal comes at too great a cost,” Teixeira said. “It’s going to limit [media organizations’] creativity, because they’re going to have someone to report back to, and it’s going to make it much harder for new organizations.”

Gregorian expressed a similar concern for startup media orgs on campus.

“It’s not going to hurt an established newspaper like the Koala,” Gregorian said. “We’ve just been here for too long for something like that to hurt us — but what it does hurt is new media, and that’s far worse than hurting the Koala, in my mind.”

The A.S. Council will be holding an open forum Tuesday to discuss the guidelines and receive feedback from the community before being voted upon at Wednesday’s meeting.

Kenworthy said he feels the legislation could use some more thought.

“I think that we haven’t done enough to consult media orgs. We haven’t done enough to consult with departments — make sure everyone’s alright with it, and most of all, make sure they understand what the process is going to look like,” Kenworthy said. “I mean, we’re having a forum the day before we’re actually passing it to see what they think of it. I just don’t think that, in hindsight, we handled the situation very well.”

Readers can contact Hayley Bisceglia-Martin at [email protected].

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