by Kristen Hare
Student journalists at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, ran ads from a white supremacist group, then pulled the ads after administrators threatened to cut funding.
Samantha Vicent writes about the decision in Student Press Law Center, reporting that student paper The Guardian agreed to a four week contract with a group called The First Freedom, which reports on its own site that it’s supported by the Nation of Aryans Against Commie Putrefaction.
Michael Crew reported on the paper’s decision to run the ad, and later pull it, for The Guardian on November 7.
Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian Brandon Semler said that the ad was paid for, and that it was not at all associated with The Guardian as an organization. “It falls under the first amendment and we didn’t want to limit first amendment rights,” said Semler.
The ad sought people to distribute TFF and ran for a few weeks, until the school started getting complaints. Vicent reports that administrators told students that the negative attention the ads were attracting could cause the school to pull funding. That day, the newspaper pulled the ads.
Student Press Law Center attorney advocate Adam Goldstein said Wright State’s financial support of The Guardian increases rather than alleviates their need to respect students’ First Amendment rights to publish as they see fit. If The Guardian decided to print the ad, it would constitute “retaliatory censorship” if the university stripped the paper of its funding or equipment, which is unconstitutional, he said.
In January, Azhar Majeed wrote a piece in FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, about other funding threats faced by student newspapers, which the group advocated for. And last year, Debra Landis wrote in College Media Review that the college-newspaper relationship is set up for conflict.
It sets up the potential for showdowns in which student government leaders, upset with coverage by the campus press, are able to threaten to reduce or cut funding entirely. The publications, in turn, report their funding is being threatened.
It’s uncertain exactly how many student newspapers across the country request student fees each year, but “it’s the majority,” according to Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.
The Guardian’s staff, which plans to publish an apology but also stands by the decision to publish the ad, is reportedly revising its advertising policy.
Schools: Wright State University