Stop endorsing candidates, student government asks Arkansas university student newspaper

The University of Arkansas student newspaper will continue to endorse student presidential candidates, despite a request from the student government to discontinue the practice.

On March 8, the Associated Student Government passed the Ethics in Elections Act of 2005, which asks the Arkansas Traveler student newspaper to refrain from publishing endorsements of student government presidential candidates “in order to avoid any conflict of interest” and to hold a fair election. But newspaper editors say the act violates their constitutional rights.

“I just don’t feel like it is their place to try to dictate what we put in our paper,” said Traveler staff writer Heather Vaughn. Since the act only requests that the Traveler refrain from endorsing candidates, she said, the newspaper will not comply with it.

Typically the editorial board interviews each of the candidates, discusses them and decides who to endorse, and then makes an endorsement in the newspaper’s editorial section about one week before the annual student government elections. The next election is scheduled for late April.

The Traveler has endorsed ASG candidates for more than 14 years.\n \n

Associated Student Government Vice President Hunter Riley said the Traveler should have the right to free expression, but candidate endorsement is a problem.

“Once [the newspaper] gives an endorsement, it affects a lot of students,” Riley said, adding that the newspaper does not give fair opportunities to all of the candidates.

Traveler Editor in Chief Chris Peterson said that although tension has existed between the newspaper and the government in the past, recently “it was only a few senators that have taken these liberties to boss around student media,” he said.

“Overall it’s unfortunate that some of the student government representatives are unaware of media law,” he added.

SPLC View: Almost every spring we hear of an attempt by student government officials or candidates – more often than not led by those who did not receive an endorsement or favorable press – to clamp down on their student media’s election coverage. Fortunately, in this latest example out of Arkansas, student government officials seem to realize that the law prohibits their enforcing an outright ban on endorsements and they have apparently only “requested” that the Traveler end its 14-plus year practice. As long ago as 1987, a federal district court in California rejected an effort by the California State University system to prohibit candidate and ballot issue endorsements in student newspapers. Fortunately, the Traveler’s editors understand that they have the right to cover the election, including publishing endorsements, as they see fit and have made it clear that they plan to do just that.