Beacon funds left to student vote

by Xakota Espinoza / Beacon Staff • December 1, 2011

Next week, students will vote on the newly revised Student Government Association constitution, which will alter Article IV, Section Four pertaining to budget allocations for student organizations, eliminating guaranteed funding for The Berkeley Beacon. 

Currently, the article states that the “Financial Advisory Board shall allocate eight percent (8%) of the student activities fees collected to the student newspaper, to be dispersed at the beginning of the fall semester.” 

The amendment was originally passed roughly 20 years ago as a means to eliminate any conflict of interest between the newspaper and its reporting on the SGA.

The new constitutional amendment proposes altering Section Four to state that “All SGA recognized organizations must submit the proper paperwork, as detailed in the guidelines created by the SGA Treasurer in conjunction with the Associate Dean of Student, to be considered for budget allocations by the FAB.”

Each year, Emerson’s sole student newspaper receives eight percent of the Student Activities Fee to cover printing costs and office supplies. The proposed changes would require the Beacon to submit the same FAB packet as other organizations, and appeal to student government officials for any additional funding.

Last spring, when SGA was revising its constitution, Vice President Tau Zaman questioned the ethics of the Beacon receiving guaranteed funding. 

“Every organization should go through the same process; the paper is not the only form of media at this college,” said Zaman at the joint-session meeting last year, when the amendment was initially proposed. 

Following an hour-long open discussion, SGA members voted to table the issue, and deliberate on the Beacon’s funding at a later time. 

“The reason why the eight percent rule was put in place is so the school newspaper, be it the Beacon or any other newspaper, could have a journalistic integrity so they wouldn’t feel biased,” said then SGA president Cami Bravo in an interview last year.

Alexander Kaufman, editor-in-chief of the Beacon, said that because the newspaper is the only on-campus media outlet that sends reporters to every meeting, it creates a unique dynamic with the SGA, separate from that of any other student organization. 

“As the sole watchdog on campus to keep the SGA in check, we have a distinct relationship with the SGA,” the junior political communication major said.

Kaufman said that while current Beacon staff will remain steadfast in its critical and objective coverage of student officials, he worries of the long-term effects such changes will bring.

“I worry that future editors may fear that unfavorable coverage will be biting the hand that feeds, and [therefore] put the government before their readers,” he said. 

According to Zaman, a constitutional review board, led by Chief Justice Adriana Guida, proposed and drafted the changes to the constitution, which were then sent to members of SGA for review.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the SGA voted unanimously to approve all amendments made to the constitution, which will be voted on by students between 12:00 a.m. Dec. 5 and 11:59 p.m. Dec. 6. 

Prior to the Tuesday vote, President Jeffrey Rizzi initiated a closed-meeting, which is a private discussion between SGA members. 

“We conducted a closed meeting because there were issues that we had to discuss within ourselves,” said the senior performing arts major. 

Rizzi said he doesn’t believe that the proposed amendment would jeopardize the integrity of the Beacon, as the FAB process includes a more detailed review than solely SGA approval, such as approval by the Dean and Associate Dean of Students.  

Junior Caitlin Higgins, who is currently running for the position of executive vice president, said that despite being a journalism major, she agrees with the proposed amendment. 

“I agree that the eight percent should be removed. But if there is a more hardball SGA, that is something you might have to address then,” said Higgins in reference to possible SGA conflict of interest where the student government might allow its opinion of the Beacon’s coverage to influence funding.

According to elections commissioner Pat Comeau, students will have the option to either accept or reject the new constitution in its entirety, as opposed to each individual amendment. Comeau said that underneath the voting option will be an explicit explanation of every change, with a link to both the old and new versions.

Sophomore Anna Lindgren said that while she thinks the Beacon should be treated equally to other organizations on campus, from a journalistic perspective, she can see where there might be an issue. 

“If SGA controlled the funding it could possibly serve as a mode of censorship in that the paper might be less likely to write articles that would cast them [SGA] in a negative light,” the writing, literature, and publishing major said. 

Kaufman said that no students have ever contributed letters to the editor regarding the Beacon’s funding. 

“This wasn’t an issue until SGA made it one. For 20 years we’ve co-existed with this protective wall,” said Kaufman. “I hope that students will value a free and independent press enough to vote ‘No’ on amending the constitution. “