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Heather Bryant / Editor-in -Chief
Nov. 22, 2011
I once had a professor who said the difference between a cynic and a skeptic is that a cynic doesn’t believe in things like honor, courage or integrity. A skeptic wants to believe but needs proof.
I’m 24 but I’ve been on my own for more than a decade. I joke that I moved to Alaska because it’s the farthest I could get from where I came from. It’s not really a joke. The experiences of my life made me a cynic.
But being a journalist turned me into a skeptic.
When it’s your job to talk to people and they tell you about their lives, you hear stories of courage, compassion or perseverance. You begin to believe in them again.
That’s not to say I don’t hear stories about bad things. Journalists tend to be acutely aware of corruption and crime. It can be very disheartening, but the job is about making people aware of it, so they can fix it.
The Sun Star has interviewed many of the people on this campus. We’ve probably spoken with you. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people in the history of UAF have had their stories told in The Sun Star.
The Sun Star wants to make sure that continues. We want to ensure that the student voice of UAF can continue, grow and be the independent newspaper you deserve.
We collected signatures for a ballot referendum that would grant The Sun Star its much-needed independence from ASUAF — the student government.
More than 400 students signed the petition. They believe the student body has the right to vote on what kind of newspaper they want to have. Maybe you’ll vote for it, maybe not. But you have the right to the facts that can help you make that decision.
ASUAF’s response to our effort is enough to make anyone a cynic.
What should be a simple separation that benefits both parties has become a maze of complications and misinformation.
The Sun Star receives a small portion of the student government fee, roughly $2.45 per semester from each student. It makes up less than half of our budget. The rest comes from advertising revenue that we generate.
ASUAF believes that because we receive this money through it, ASUAF rules can dictate how that money is used.
They tried to enforce on The Sun Star an election rule stating that no funds or property of ASUAF can be used in an election campaign. They told us
what we cannot write about.
Last Wednesday, ASUAF President Mari Freitag and Senate Chair Jennifer Chambers came to The Sun Star office and told me that because we are on the ballot, I cannot write any more editorials about the Sun Star initiative. If I do, they can remove our initiative from the ballot. Later that evening, Election Board Chair Dillon Ball told our advertising manager that if we wrote any more about the independence initiative they would remove it from the ballot.
There is a word for that. It is censorship. I will not stand for it.
No group has the right to dictate the content of The Sun Star, or threaten to penalize the newspaper for its content. Such an action would infringe on all students’ right to free speech. There is no honor in that.
During the publication board meeting on Nov. 18, Freitag said that it was not the intention of ASUAF to censor The Sun Star. However, the existence and application of bylaws that can be applied in a way that leads to censorship is a problem.
I wanted to believe in ASUAF. I’ve been clear about my position on the separation of the press and student government since I took over as editor in May. It’s what’s best for both groups. I think the paper has had a respectful relationship with the student leaders this semester. We’ve covered them fairly in the weekly ASUAF recap and included their side of events whenever they were involved in a news story. Still, a newspaper should not be under any form of government and the events of the past few weeks have only proven that.
Censorship is a serious matter. As the Editor-in-Chief, it is my responsibility to look out for the rights and freedoms of your newspaper. Accordingly, I contacted a lawyer with the Student Press Law Center.
The lawyer responded with a letter clarifying the relationship boundaries between The Sun Star and ASUAF.
“As a government actor, ASUAF cannot create or enforce a rule that restricts the ability of a student newspaper to editorialize on ballot issues without violating the Constitution.”
The letter also states “as a government actor, ASUAF is not the owner of the things it funds.”
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The Sun Star initiative asks you to vote on separating The Sun Star from ASUAF. It creates a $7 media fee in order to accomplish this.
If there was a way to give The Sun Star its independence and not charge a fee, I would do it. But the events of the last few weeks prove more than ever that The Sun Star needs to be independent and beholden to no one but its readers—you.
The fact that in order to become independent The Sun Star has to go through a process administrated by the very group The Sun Star seeks independence from is in itself a conflict, the sort of conflict we hope to avoid in the future.
It’s important to remember this fee pays for a tangible and important service for the students. And it’s a fee you will have a say in. I understand the rising costs of college are a problem. Funding an independent newspaper is a worthy cost.
The last few weeks highlight why this is so important. The fact that ASUAF has bylaws that it interprets in a way that leads to censorship is the perfect example of why The Sun Star needs to be independent.
The students of this campus believe in freedom of the press, the importance of good reporting and the right to have their voices heard.
The Sun Star is proof of that.
The Sun Star