Funds Restored to Student Press

According to the A.S. Standing Rules, a funding freeze is automatically lifted by Wednesday of Week 10 if the council doesn’t pass legislation that counters that rule. By default, council returned to funding media organizations with the same system as before.

Gupta froze all media funds after a racial slur was aired on an episode of Koala TV, preventing campus media publications from accessing their Winter and Spring Quarter funds. He then chartered a committee to discuss new media guidelines that prevent funding hate speech.

Committee members considered two main alternatives: a government-speech model and an opt-out model, which would allow students to remove their student fee funding from certain publications.

The committee failed to make an official recommendation or submit any written legislation, with the exception of a Standing Rules amendment — submitted by Vice President of Finance and Resources Peter Benesch — to implement the government-speech model.

Benesch’s model found support from students who called for the council to defund the Koala and UC Student Regent delegate Jesse Cheng.

“We stand for this protocol because this issue is an issue of diversity and not really an issue of free speech and even less an issue of the Constitution,” Cheng said. “If it does come down to legality, it’s the Supreme Court’s responsibility to constitutionality — you don’t have to worry about that here.”

The amendment also created backlash among committee members who were not aware that Benesch had prepared a piece of legislation to present. Members felt that he had been working on the amendment behind their backs.

Gupta explained that this was not the case.

“There was never an agreement to not have legislation or not use PowerPoint, as some people have said,” Gupta said. “There was no shady business or working behind people’s backs. All of these are scare tactics used by the majority to attempt to silence the minority. These ideas of a possible evil A.S., threats of litigation, or censorship — they’re unfair arguments, scare tactics for people who want to undercut the legislation.”

He added that concerns that the government-speech model could be abused were unfounded.

“The A.S. Council is moderate and would continue to substantially fund media organizations,” he said.

Warren Senator Alyssa Wing, who voted in favor of the proposed legislation, said recent racially motivated events on campus created a need for the council to change the system.

“We’ve really been urged to do something to uphold the Principles of Community,” Wing said.

According to Benesch, various Supreme Court cases supported the legality of the government-speech model.

“Essentially, this idea supposes that we will close the open forum where everyone can come and ask for money and we have to distribute in a viewpoint-neutral manner, and move to a model where the A.S. will have to provide a large amount of funding through advertising initiatives,” Benesch said.

Koala Editor in Chief Kris Gregorian said he opposes the government-speech model because it forces publications to abide by the Principles of Community or lose funding.

Although Wednesday’s final decision returned the funding model to its original system, the committee also discussed implementing an opt-out model. This model would allow students to request for the portion of their student fees that go toward certain publications to be removed on moral grounds. With the current system, students who request that their money be removed are reimbursed from the A.S. General Fund instead of their chosen organization.

According to Benesch, UCSD legal counsel Dan Park said the opt-out model was illegal because it allowed students to fiscally discriminate based on content.

Transfer Senator and committee member Adam Powers said he favors the opt-out model, since it would have allowed students to vote with their dollars.

“We are empowering students to make a decision with how the campus is run,” he said.

The committee also discussed improving the original process by allowing print media orgs to request funding on a rolling basis.

Associate Vice President of Student Organizations Andrew Ang said he prefers adding a line item that creates an emergency fund from which media orgs could withdraw.

Park declined to comment.

According to David Blair-Loy, director of American Civil Liberties Union’s San Diego branch, both the government-speech and opt-out models violate the First Amendment since they discriminate against the press as a form of speech.

“There are numerous student orgs that engage in all forms of protected speech that aren’t print,” Blair-Loy said. “A.S. has funded many forms of controversial speech, and they can’t treat student press differently from the way they treat other student orgs. The First Amendment doesn’t just protect freedom of speech, it protects freedom of the press.”

He said that these two proposed systems violate Section 61.13 of the UC Regents policy, which states that student government must provide funding on a viewpoint-neutral basis.

“I never say preliminarily that I will sue before I do, but if A.S. adopts either of these options, their chance of being litigated will increase exponentially,” Blair-Loy said.

Gupta said he hoped the council would not bow under threats of litigation. He said although council has no definite plans to change media guidelines, outside pressure to fight against funding hate speech will only increase, especially in light of the UC Board of Regents working to apply a form of the government-speech model systemwide.

Readers can contact Angela Chen at [email protected].

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