LOUISIANA ‘ The campus newspaper and student government at Northwestern State University fought a heated battle this fall that almost led to the dismissal of the student newspaper editor.
In a 23-4 vote, the student senate decided to remove Rondray Hill as editor of The Current Sauce for refusing to publish the minutes of student senate meetings. Student government president Rusty Broussard vetoed the legislation.
University administrators were not involved in the conflict, but they were aware of the situation involving Hill.
Throughout the semester the student senate repeatedly attempted to dictate the content of The Current Sauce. The conflict originated from a clause in the student government’s constitution, which says the newspaper will print minutes from senate meetings and have a reporter present at all meetings.
‘I’ve advised all the editors that they didn’t have to follow that guideline, but I think they did so just to avoid controversy,’ newspaper faculty adviser Neal Ralston said.
The legitimacy of the regulation clause was brought to the forefront when student senator Jeremy Henriques drafted a bill requiring the newspaper to tape-record all interviews and keep the tapes on file for one calendar year. It also stipulated the tapes be accessible to the public.
‘They misquote people all the time and I think that jeopardizes their integrity,’ Henriques said.
In reaction to the bill, Hill decided to defy the student government constitution by refusing to print the meeting minutes. Hill’s actions motivated the student senate to vote on his removal.
Abiding by the student government’s judicial procedures, Hill asked the student supreme court to determine the constitutionality of the clause stipulating the printing of minutes and having a reporter present at meetings. The court ruled it was within the senate’s jurisdiction to fire Hill for not publishing the minutes. Following the ruling, the senate voted to dismiss him.
‘They believe it is not a First Amendment issue, and the issue is that I did not follow my job description,’ Hill said.
Prior to voting on Hill’s termination as editor, the student senate voted to adopt Henriques’ tape-recording bill.
Fortunately for the newspaper, Broussard understood the First Amendment implications of the legislation and vetoed the tape-recording bill. He justified the veto by citing Louisiana’s shield law, which protects journalists from revealing sources and interview transcripts.
Even though the student government was unable to force reporters to tape interviews, Henriques’ goals were partially accomplished. Hill decided to require reporters to record their interviews in an effort to ensure accurate reporting and to teach responsible journalism.
‘I informed my reporters that while the SGA can’t force them to have tape recorders, I can,’ Hill said. ‘This is basically done as a precaution. Everybody is now required to have a tape recorder by me. Not the SGA.’
Hill said his reporters will not have to disclose their tapes to the public; instead the tapes are intended solely to help reporters accurately quote sources. Hill acknowledged if there was a complaint regarding inaccurate reporting, the tape could then be used to ‘back up’ a reporter.