Media proposal on hold at U. of Utah as officials review plan to create oversight board

UTAH — A media proposal to save the student-run radio station at the University of Utah has been put on hold after local newspapers reported that university officials were pressuring editors at the student newspaper to change online content.

At the request of the university board of trustees, a media task force began work on the proposal about a year ago after the student government voted to eliminate the radio station’s budget of $15,000 a year.

Jim Fisher, adviser of The Daily Utah Chronicle, said the task force was scheduled to present its plan to the board June 11, but the item was removed from the agenda because the communication department had received so much negative attention in recent weeks.

Several newspapers in the area reported that administrators strong-armed editors at the paper into removing the name of a rape victim from the online archive. Fisher said the woman gave permission to use her name but changed her mind after the article was published.

“As soon as the bad press came out about the rape victim, the president of the university took the task force completely off the table,” Fisher said.

But Fred Esplin, the vice president for institutional advancement, said the proposal was not discussed at the meeting because the board wanted to give the task force more time to work out finance details.

“They’re seeing ghosts,” Esplin said. “[The articles had] nothing to do with it.”

Esplin said the university president assembled the task force, composed of seven faculty members including a media lawyer, to improve the department and give students more resources, including an overhaul of K-UTE, the student-run radio station transmitted only on campus.

Esplin said student government leaders voted to eliminate the station’s budget because of a lack of listeners, not an attempt to censor student media. The Chronicle reported in December that K-UTE’s student station manager advocated the funding cut, and the station’s most listened-to show had only five listeners, according to a February article.

The task force’s proposal ensures the restoration of the radio station by giving it a new format: a digital-FM channel on the university’s National Public Radio-affiliated radio station, Esplin said. The switch would allow the station to reach any listener with a digital radio, he said.

K-UTE has managed to continue operation online during the past year because it had a cash reserve. Esplin said he hopes the task force’s solution is adopted before the station’s reserve runs out.

In addition to preserving student radio, the group’s plan would create a media council to oversee print and electronic media on campus. Esplin said it would combine the existing publications and broadcast councils. Students, faculty and working professionals would sit on the board, which would allocate money to all student media, he said.

Fisher, who has seen a copy of the proposal, said he supported it, but he “worried it would rob Peter to pay Paul” because the Chronicle is the student medium with the most money.

Fisher said the task force met with faculty members several times to brainstorm solutions and go over ideas. Each time, he said faculty members insisted the Chronicle be left alone. The group seemed to listen, he said.

“The plan itself really looked pretty good,” he said.

Ann Darling, the dean of humanities and the task force chairwoman, said the plan will not be available to the public until it is finished.

“…The document remains a working draft that can/might change over the next academic year,” she said in an e-mail.

Esplin said he expects the task force to present the proposal to the board in September.