Proposed constitution change a conflict of interest

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • December 1, 2011

At Issue: A proposed constitutional change to strip the Beacon of its allotted 8 percent cut of the student activities budget.

Our Take: To maintain an independent check on the SGA, vote “no” on the constitution. 

 

Years ago, the framers of the Student Government Association (SGA) constitution recognized the necessity for a student newspaper to exist outside the jurisdiction of financial allocations by our elected representatives. Voting “yes” to approve the newly-proposed amendments to the guiding document will undermine a safeguarded tradition of separation that has long served Emerson’s student body. 

According to Dean Ronald Ludman at a discussion on the issue last March, the provision that allots a fixed eight percent of the student activities fee to The Berkeley Beacon was designed to ease a period of tension between two student organizations whose responsibilities are equally important and fundamentally separate. 

Where SGA strives to represent and effect positive change for the student body, one of the Beacon’s primary constitutional responsibilities is to hold SGA accountable to that mission. Through 64 years of reporting, the Beacon has been an essential resource for Emerson students to stay abreast of campus affairs.

The constitution of this newspaper makes maintaining a professional distance from the innerworkings of SGA a top priority, barring Beacon editors and reporters from seeking elected and appointed positions. Anything less would create an inappropriate conflict of interest. The constitutional clause SGA now hopes to delete would create a similarly problematic conflict.

Covering student government is rarely glamorous. While other media outlets on campus produce extravagant photoshoots and slick television packages, compelling radio interviews and moving works of prose, the Beacon hasn’t shirked its responsibility to send reporters to public sessions of SGA, asking tough questions and making difficult calls when we see our leaders veering down the wrong path. Our constitutional duty to make those sometimes unpopular assessments is exactly why the Beacon’s funding needs to be protected outside of SGA control. 

Consider that for the first two months of the semester, detailed information from SGA session proceedings was only available to students in the pages of this newspaper. Student government representatives fumbled their constitutional obligation to post minutes to the organization’s website, its most direct conduit with the student body. It wasn’t until the Beacon editorialized the oversight that the minutes were posted. 

The Emerson experience is strongest when extra- and co-curricular activities simulate the realities, checks, and balances of our real-world counterparts as closely as possible. Imagining a scenario wherein a governing body determines the budget of the primary media outlet charged with holding it accountable is a complete departure from reality, and the values of open communication Emerson so cherishes. 

Our suggestion is not that the current SGA would act imprudently in allotting funds to the Beacon based on its coverage of their affairs. However, constitutions are established not just for the here and now, but for the future, and with regard to the past. The provision as it stands is protective of future generations of journalists at Emerson so that they may never have to fear financial sanctions for honest and informative reporting.