Tell SGA to keep their hands off The Review
As you may already know, the previous issue of The Review contained several articles that were controversial in nature. I am referring specifically to the articles concerning the Mark Gruber lawsuit and the Wimmer Hall laundry room. These articles sparked a great deal of spirited, healthy discussion amongst the Saint Vincent community. This should be among the goals of any free news source, as I will elaborate on further. However, within this ensuing discourse, several issues have arisen that, as the Editor in Chief of this publication, I feel strongly inclined, if not obligated, to address.
Firstly, as a premise to the points I will proceed to make, let me make it abundantly clear that I unequivocally stand by and support everything that the editorial, writing, and photography staff do for this publication. They have been competitively chosen on the basis of their merits as students and as journalists. Without this dedicated staff and their talent and integrity, this publication could not exist as it does today.
In the days following the distribution of Issue 1, it was brought to my attention by SGA Executive President that Student Government was upset with the aforementioned content that appeared in Issue 1. I was told that SGA was “misrepresented” and that Issue 1 was “the worst” paper that The Review has published. While I always respect the right of individuals to their opinions, I believe that the SGA lost sight of its proper function.
SGA is called Student Government Association for a good reason. Like all governments, SGA’s budget comes from money that we have paid as part of our student fees. Along these lines, SGA should exist to function as our representative, as a medium between the students and the college, not as a sovereign body of consolidated power. Therefore, SGA’s prospective must be called into question when they express the sentiment that Review funding comes explicitly from them. If The Review is funded solely at the behest of SGA, then who is to say that SGA cannot decide to recant this funding?
This leaves open the egregious possibility of SGA exerting influence or even control of the content of the Review. I believe that the reaction that was promulgated by SGA members to Issue 1 ventured dangerously close to the former, which is the first step en route to the latter. This is especially true considering that while she was in the process of writing her Wimmer laundry room article, Review staff writer Dawn March was contacted via email by the Executive Board President, who told March, that it is “imperative that you interview myself.” She also told March that questions she asked of SGA representatives were “irrelevant.” Her attempt as an SGA executive to influence the content of The Review is an unfortunate violation of the principles of a free press by an otherwise exemplary student leader.
One needs only to consider countries such as North Korea, Burma, Cuba and China to realize the folly of government control and censorship of a free press. I am certainly not making a comparison between the governments of these countries and the Student Government of Saint Vincent College; nothing could be more misconceived. Rather, I implore you as the reader to consider these extreme examples of what happens when a free press is unable to hold governments accountable for their actions. While I concede that government interference is less reprehensible than outright control, I hold that neither degree of government interference can be consistent with a truly free press.
Bearing all of this in mind, I ask that if you believe in a free and uncensored newspaper at Saint Vincent, read over the minutes from the SGA meeting that occurred on October 24 at http://www.stvincent.edu/sga/agendaminutes. Here, you will see that a great deal of this meeting concerned the aforementioned article controversy. You will also see that many of your own representatives engaged in discussions regarding a possible removal of SGA funding of The Review. Prevalent in this meeting was a clear sentiment that the funding that SGA is given by the college to distribute is their money to be used solely at their discretion.
As I have stated, no free publication can be truly free if governmental influence is exerted upon it. Contrasted to this idea is the statement that Senior Class Senator John Merranko is quoted as making at the October 24 SGA meeting which reads, “We give over $7,000 in funding to the newspaper and I feel that we should ensure that the quality improves (the emphasis is mine). In these minutes, Merranko proceeds to make several false and exaggerated statements about the Wimmer laundry article, and the manner in which it was written. Merranko’s sentiment was shared by Sophomore Class Senator Tom Cocchi, who is quoted as saying, “We are a major source of funding, and we have a right to let them know when quality is lacking. We do not want to pull funding, but as financial contributors we have a right to demand quality” (again, the emphasis is mine). The ability to criticize is among the most fundamental aspects of our right to free speech. However, slandering The Review and its writers is certainly not appropriate for the SGA floor—would you want your congressmen spending their time on the floor of the House of Representatives quibbling about their complaints about CNN or Fox News when there are much more pressing matters of policy at hand?
I do not believe, reader, that this letter is based on any sort of false or inflammatory assumptions; the concerns that I have expressed here are real and legitimate. A major implication of the agenda of these factious SGA members who would silence or censor The Review for any reason may be found in the previously-mentioned SGA minutes, in which Junior Class Senator Taylor Guido is quoted as saying “I think that we need to bring it to their attention that we really should be more positive as a newspaper.” So if you would rather see The Review serve as a mouthpiece for SGA and the college administration, then certainly you would be inclined to sympathize with Guido’s assertion. However, I believe that when news such as the Gruber lawsuit or rampant laundry room problems exists, it is our duty as a free publication to cover them.
Along these lines, Junior Class Senator Allison Petris is quoted by the SGA as saying “…we need to enforce that they need to print articles regarding events that are relevant and in high demand (emphasis added).” As I articulated in an editorial last semester, The Review always welcomes suggestions and will always be receptive to letters to the editor. However, I would rather see this publication shut down than allow it to regress into a state of servitude to SGA and the administration, or any other entity that would trample on a free press at Saint Vincent College for the sake of what they deem to be “relevant and in high demand.”
The man who I consider to be the wisest of the American Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, wrote in a letter that “To preserve the freedom of the human mind… and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.” Out of all the Founders, perhaps none was more skeptical of governmental power than Jefferson. For this reason, he vehemently believed in a free press to serve not just as a disseminator of information, but also as a watchful guardian that, by keeping the public well-informed as to the actions of government, could actually serve as an effective deterrent to tyranny. I support Jefferson’s assessment and espouse it for this publication. Therefore, if you also believe in a free press at Saint Vincent, I strongly urge you to contact your SGA representatives and tell them to keep their hands off of The Review.
All the best, Bob Maley, Editor-in-Chief