ARKANSAS — The University of Arkansas student newspaper will continue to endorse student presidential candidates, despite a request from the student government to discontinue the practice, which has been going on for more than 14 years.
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 just basically let the [student government] know that we would reserve our constitutional right to endorse candidates, however we saw fit,” Vaughn said.
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.
Riley said he recalls that a few years ago four presidential candidates were running, and there were allegations that the Traveler only endorsed two of them because of personal reasons. He said the Ethics in Elections Act addresses that sort of issue, even though the student government does not have any power to enforce it.
Traveler Editor in Chief Chris Peterson said he believes the act is “a kind of revenge” due to last year’s tension between the newspaper and the student government, when a Traveler editorial objected to a proposed 25-cent debate fee for students, which would require that students pay the additional amount to fund the student debate team each year. Peterson said Associated Student Government members were on the debate team and the student fee review board, which makes recommendations to the vice chancellor about the allocation of student fees. After the debate fee was not passed, the fee review board attempted to take away the newspaper’s funding, Peterson said.
The vice chancellor of student affairs ignored the fee review board’s recommendations, according to Peterson, and dissolved the entire student government for a few weeks before a new one was created.
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.
–By Diane Krauthamer