Ariz. lawmaker proposes eliminating state funds for student publications

ARIZONA — After Arizona college journalists splashed photographs of a woman’s pierced nipple and an instructional column about oral sex across the pages of their student newspapers last year, a state representative has proposed yanking state funding from university publications.

Rep. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, added a footnote to the state’s budget on March 8 that specified “no state funding for university student newspapers,” according to The Associated Press. The proposed budget will face a vote on the House floor and approval from the Senate before moving to the governor’s desk for approval. The new budget, once approved, will take effect on July 1.

Rep. Steve Gallardo (D-Tolleson), also an appropriations committee member, said Pearce added the footnote because he received complaints about the photograph of a woman’s breast appearing on the cover of an October 2004 edition of Arizona State University’s weekly State Press student magazine. A column about oral sex techniques that appeared in Northern Arizona University’s Lumberjack weekly student newspaper in 2004 was also a factor, Pearce told the Associated Press.

“If you want to be a free press, be a free press, but we’re not going to subsidize articles that are over the top, and there were a lot of folks who felt it was over the top,” Pearce told The Associated Press.

Gallardo described the footnote to the State Press as “censorship at its best.”

“This is [Pearce’s] way to control what is in the newspapers,” Gallardo told the newspaper. “This is straight to the heart of freedom.”

The proposed budget cut would not cripple student newspapers at the state’s largest universities. The University of Arizona’s Daily Wildcat receives no state funding. Arizona State University’s State Press receives 10 percent of its funding indirectly from the state through the university.

The Northern Arizona University Lumberjack pays for itself through advertising, said Mary Lemma, a university public affairs representative.

“If [the newspaper] has a shortfall, the university might give them some money to bail them out, but they have to pay it back,” she said. “Whatever they get is more like debt relief.”

Lemma said the president’s and provost’s offices extend the aid funds to the newspaper, but that money originates from local funds.

“We published a sexually explicit column and there was talk of pulling funding, but there’s nothing to pull because [the newspaper is] basically self-supporting,” Lemma said.

Community college publications may be the hardest hit if the state enacts the proposed budget cut.

Cherish Medlock, print media lab advisor for Central Arizona Community College’s The CACtus student newspaper, said “very, very little” money comes from advertising. Most of the newspaper’s funding is from the state.

Although Medlock had not heard of the proposed budget cut, she said she anticipates that the university would find an alternate way to fund the newspaper if the cut goes into effect because the publication is an integral part of the college’s journalism curriculum.

–By Kate Campbell