The story was eye-catching and provocative. The headline″Sensual Steel”ran last year on the front page of Arizona State University’s weeklyentertainment magazine published by the State Press student newspaper.The text described how students use body piercings to enhance sexual sensationand the full-page photograph featured a woman’s bare breast, shot from the side,with a metal barbell vertically skewering the nipple.
In response tocomplaints from constituents about the State Press story and aninstructional column about oral sex published last year in the Lumberjackstudent newspaper at Northern Arizona University, Rep. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa)added a footnote to the state budget in March that specified “no state fundingfor university student newspapers.”
The footnote targets those schools’publications as well as the University of Arizona’s Daily Wildcat studentnewspaper.
The legislators supporting the footnote acknowledged that itwould not affect the operation of the newspapers because they receive no statefunding. Legislators said they intended merely to signify disapproval.
“It’snot going to keep [the students] from going ahead and printing theirnewspapers,” said Sen. Karen Johnson (R-Mesa), a member of the SenateAppropriations Committee, which handles the series of bills that comprisesArizona’s annual budget proposal. “It sends a very, very strong message thatneeds to be sent. [The newspapers] had smut, pornographic stuff talking abouthow people hook up with people and how to have different trysts going on duringthe week—how many [people] you could score with. Those are just not thingsthat our constituents want their tax dollars going toward.”
CameronEickmeyer, editor in chief of the State Press student newspaper, said themeasure puzzled him.
“The footnote didn’t ever really make sense to us as alegitimate effort to affect what was happening in the newsroom,” he said. “Wetried to explain that a much better way to effect change in a newsroom is tomeet with editors, send letters, attempt to write guest columns. Those kinds ofthings are much more effective than doing something like this.”
He saidlegislators never contacted him directly, but that complaints about thenewspaper’s content were handed down from university officials.
Johnson saidthe footnote garnered the support of slightly more than half the Republicans inthe Senate and all eight Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sen. John Huppenthal (R-Phoenix), vice-chair of the Senate AppropriationsCommittee, said that while he had not “had much time to think about it,” heconsidered the footnote to be a boon to free speech.
“If you really want afree press, a free press has to be independent,” he said. “A government-fundedpress isn’t free.”
Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, vetoed the proposed2006 state budget in late March. Republican and Democratic legislators agreedthat Napolitano rejected the budget primarily because it failed to provideenough funding for full-day kindergarten, healthcare programs and the state’swater department during drought season, not because of the footnote.
Thethree newspapers targeted by the footnote do not receive state funding. The UADaily Wildcat and Northern Arizona Lumberjack support themselvesthrough advertising. The ASU State Press receives 10 percent of itsfunding from a university account fed by tuition dollars.
Johnson said thefootnote would not affect community college newspapers, some of which relyentirely on state funding.
Huppenthal said he did not realize that thestudent newspapers the footnote would target do not receive statefunding.
“Then the footnote doesn’t make sense and it’s really not an issue,is it?” he said.
Charles Ares, a professor at the University of ArizonaRogers College of Law who specializes in constitutional law, said “it’sstartling and certainly worth looking at.”
“At the moment, I don’t know howto react to this,” he said. “I suppose the legislature can appropriate or notappropriate money in any way it wants, but if it’s [denying funding] tointimidate a student newspaper, that might be something else and there might bea First Amendment [violation] claim there. I’ve never seen anything like this.I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
Rep. Steve Gallardo (D-Tolleson)said many Democrats denounced the budget for lack of healthcare funding and themessage behind the footnote.
“One thing Rep. Pearce does is wrap himselfaround the Constitution,” he said. “He’s an ultra-conservative member of ourbody, but it’s important that he peel off Article I long enough to read itbecause I don’t think he’s actually read it. It’s just his way of trying tosilence the paper.”
The Arizona legislature and the governor’s office willshuttle budget bills back and forth until they reach a compromise. Legislatorsare currently working on the second round of bills and it is not clear if thefootnote will be included in the second draft of the budget. If approved, thebudget will go into effect on July 1.
Eickmeyer said the State Pressstudent newspaper will not speak out against the footnote.
“We covered theoriginal bill coming out and that’s pretty much all we’ve done,” he said. “Asfar as we’re concerned, there’s not much more we can do. Until we hear somethingelse [about the footnote], we’re operating business as usual.”