Student journalists fear plan will allow administration to control content

CALIFORNIA — Los Angeles City College (LACC) administratorsand the school’s student newspaper adviser and staff are at odds over aproposed plan to incorporate the newspaper’s budget into the studentactivities department, a move student journalists fear would give administratorsan opening to exercise prior review over the contents of the paper.

Rhonda Guess, The Collegian’s faculty adviser, said she feelsmoving the paper to the activities department is an attempt by theadministration to take more control over the editorial content of the paper.She said she has been told directly by administrators that they would betaking a look at the content.

“It’s disturbing,” Guess said. “My concern is[journalism] students will not come to this program if they know we have anadministration antagonistic to student reporters.”

Frank Elaridi, editor-in-chief at The Collegian, said he is afraidall content will be one-sided and biased if the paper is moved, reflecting theadministration’s hand in its operation.

“The problem with [the move] is that they would be editing all of ourcontent,” Elaridi said. “[The content] would no longer be in ouradviser’s hands, it would be in their hands.”

LACC’s president Jamillah Moore said perceptions that theadministration is hostile toward the paper stem from misunderstandings.

She said the purpose of moving the paper’s budget to the studentactivities department is to help them become more financially independent, notto exert editorial control.

“Our goal is to make [the paper] self-sufficient and to move them offthe general fund,” Moore said. “What we’re trying to do is putthe paper in a climate where they can be self-sufficient … we’re tryingto help our people understand it’s going to give them more.”

Talks of the move come after a recent budget controversy, reported lastweek in the Los Angeles Times. All departments received an across theboard 15 percent cut, due to cuts in school funding. The paper, however, wasscheduled to get a 40 percent cut.

Guess said the budget cuts were retaliatory action being taken by Moorebecause of the paper’s reporting, which “has teeth.”

The Collegian recently ran an article about the school’sbasketball team falsifying player information. According to the story, athleteswere reportedly given false permanent residence addresses so they would be ableto pay in-state tuition, making it possible for them to come play basketball atthe school. The article is up for a national award for top sports story of theyear from the Associated Collegiate Press.

Moore said the budget, which bears her signature and cut TheCollegian’s budget from $25,000 to $15,000, was not supposed to besigned.

“I don’t know how the contract ended up in thediscussion,” Moore said. “I was sitting down with the vice presidentof administrative services, looking at a series of budgets. I had no idea thatwould be taken and published in the paper.”

Ken Sherwood, the president of the academic senate, said he feels theproblem is with the leadership at the newspaper.

“The newspaper adviser just doesn’t want anyone holding heraccountable for anything the newspaper does,” he said. “Rather thanbeing accountable, she starts screaming about First Amendmentviolations.”

He also said the remarks made by the newspaper staff regarding the budgetwere “absolutely false” and called them”slanderous.”

The tension between Moore and the newsroom began about a year ago, whenMoore wanted anyone who was shooting video on campus to have to sign releaseforms. Confrontation arose again about four months ago when constructioncontractors told students the president forbade them from speaking with thestudent press.

“It chills speech,” Guess said. “And it chills speechbecause students are intimidated by administrators. I saw them; I saw they werechilled. They had to stop what they were doing in the middle of astory.”

Guess said she has a list of other grievances committed by administratorsagainst the paper that were meant to “intimidate” and”censor” student activity.

Guess described another incident involving the president, in a publicaccreditation hearing, asking any media representatives to identify themselves.

One of the student reporters present, Mars Melnicoff, complied withMoore’s request. She said she was “embarrassed” by the wayMoore treated her. After the meeting was over, Melnicoff said Moore approachedher and asked her whether she was going to sign a release, or continue to”behave inappropriately.”

“It was totally humiliating,” Melnicoff said.

Guess said she was concerned with the way Moore chided and intimidatedMelnicoff.

“My big concern is that I stand up and protect students,” Guesssaid. “I’m worried.”

Because of the actions of the administration, Elaridi said he and othereditors have had to take additional action to make sure the reporters know theirrights so they aren’t “bullied” by the school’sadministrators.

“[The administration] is creating a hostile environment for thestudent press and constantly burdening the First Amendment, free speech rights,and trying to create pre-conditions to exercise a civil right,” Elaridisaid.