Friday, February 1, 2008

Funding Restored to NJ College Paper

By CHRIS NEWMARKER – The Associated Press

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Montclair State University's student government decided Wednesday to temporarily restore funding to the school's weekly student newspaper, after its decision to freeze the paper's funding a week ago was criticized as an attempt to stifle freedom of the press.

After more than five hours of deliberation, the Student Government Association legislature voted 12-0, with seven abstentions, to restore funding for printing and office supplies to The Montclarion for 30 days, during which time student government and newspaper leaders are expected to try to resolve their differences.

"What's most important is that Montclair State University will have a newspaper tomorrow," said Karl de Vries, the newspaper's editor-in-chief.

Editors found out when the spring semester began last week that the paper's funding had been frozen. The student government also contacted The Montclarion's publisher and told it not to print the paper's issue last Thursday; an online version was produced.

Editors said the budget freeze was punishment for the paper criticizing student government for regularly holding closed meetings, in possible violation of New Jersey's open meetings law.

Student government leaders say that they're not censoring the newspaper, but that the paper's editors overstepped their authority when they hired a lawyer to help them get access to the meetings.

The New Jersey Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Arlington, Va.-based Student Press Law Center criticized the budget freeze.

"You're not only hurting the newspaper staff, which is having their free speech cut off, but the campus, which is being denied a valuable source of information," said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the law center.

De Vries said the student government wanted the newspaper to turn over correspondence between the newspaper and a lawyer The Montclarion had previously retained to challenge the student government's practice of closing meetings. The government fired the lawyer in November.

Shayna Jacobs, The Montclarion's news editor, said that in the past, the association has required it to be the conduit to all correspondence to its attorney.

At the Wednesday meeting, association President Ron Chicken argued that the budget freeze wasn't about censorship.

Bryan Fucetola, an association legislator, argued that the newspaper broke student organization rules because it wasn't authorized to hire its own attorney and instead should have consulted the association's attorney.

Since the fired attorney had been paid for with association money, Fucetola said the student government had a right to see what editors had discussed with the attorneys.

"We just want to know what we paid for," Fucetola said.

But attorneys for the New Jersey Press Association and the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the editors had a right to expect lawyer-client confidentiality, and that the association could face serious legal troubles by shutting down a student newspaper.

Montclair State's student government controls the budget and in any given year provides a third to half of the money needed to publish the paper, available for free on the campus, about 14 miles west of New York City.

The university doesn't directly control the association, but after Wednesday's vote, Karen Pennington, the school's vice president of student development and campus life, said she was confident the administration would be able to successfully mediate.


On the Net -- The Montclarion: