Officials pull newspaper with sex coverage off the racks

MISSOURI –Student newspaper editor Ben Digman was thrilled to discover the zipper of hispants was inscribed with “Talon,” the name of his studentpublication.

“We thought, ‘That’sgreat,’” he said. “It’s an interesting look for thenewspaper.”

But when he used a photograph of the unzipped pants– minus the owner — for the cover of the newspaper’s Februaryissue, administrators at his Catholic university pulled every copy from theracks.

More than 800 copies of TheTalon, the monthly student-run newspaper at Avila University in KansasCity, Mo., were removed from the campus Feb. 3 after administrators saw thecover and two pages of articles inside that discussed condoms, one-night standsand sex among students.

The papers were removed because certainarticles “violated the values of the university,” said JeremyLillig, a university spokesman. “[Avila] is an environment where studentscan question and discuss questions in a scholarly manner. This particulararticle did not uphold that.”

Because Avila is a privateuniversity, administrators there do not have the same constitutional limitationsin censoring student media that are found at public schools.

Lastweek the school released a statement that said, “The newspaper is aninstitution-sponsored publication.”

Whilethe school provides the majority of the newspaper’s funding,Talon staff had secured off-campusadvertising that partially funded the publication, Digman said. He saiduniversity officials refused an offer to remove the offending pages andredistribute the publication.

Digman is concerned that thenewspaper staff will not be able to report on the censorship of the Februaryissue in future editions of the paper, he said.

“They don’t wantto take editorial control, but at the same time they don’t want us toretain control,” he said.

Digman said he would love to havesome concrete guidelines from university officials about what is acceptablecontent to publish.

“We understand there are certain things youcan’t discuss,” he said. “However, to be responsiblejournalists, we need to have specific things we can’t and can discuss sowe can publish without fear of something you say being incorrectly interpretedand getting pulled.”

Digman said he understood that in decidingto attend a private university, students are not promised unrestrictedspeech.

“We’re under no illusion that this is a publicinstitution, but at the same time, you don’t want to feel like, ‘Howmuch money have I invested and spent at this university and I can’t fullyexpress myself,’” he said.

School officials have nevertaken issue with the newspaper’s content before this incident, Lilligsaid, and there is no “game plan” to handle content disputes in thefuture.

The Talon isfree to publish,” Lillig said. “They are not shutdown.”

Digman said there is “no chance” ofcollecting the confiscated newspapers and reissuing them, and that there wastalk on the editorial board of editors stepping down. At the very least, hesaid, he hopes a future edition of TheTalon can contain letters to the editor discussing the censorshipissue.

“It is difficult to justify in our minds continuing toput out a publication that is watered down and censored,” hesaid.

by Allison Retka, SPLC staff writer