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Editorial

Senate should not infringe on the right to a free press

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April 28, 2010

In last week’s Student Voice editorial, the editorial staff criticized student media for failing to inform UW-River Falls’ students of upcoming Student Senate elections, the candidates to be represented at upcoming elections and general Senate proceedings. It is important that the press report on Senate news to keep the student body as informed as possible.

On March 3, WRFW attempted filling that role by interviewing Nikki Shonoiki. During the interview, Shonoiki said that she had plans to run for Student Senate President. This action spurred an ethics complaint that was filed against her for “posting campaign material before the petition due date” expired on April 12.

Never mind the fact that the interview with WRFW never aired, this ethics complaint is completely unjustified. A reporter’s job is to report the news. No one but the journalist controls what content they cover. Therefore, a possible candidate being asked if they intend to run for a Senate seat is in no way campaigning—it is a proclamation of fact. This interview is evidence of student media doing their job, and simply highlights a person being interviewed telling the truth. Is that person supposed to lie to the media? Now that would be an action worthy of an ethics complaint.

With this crackdown, the Senate is no longer attacking just candidates, but they are also attacking the right to a free press, a free press whose primary function is to inform the public. The American public is guaranteed the right to a free press, one not interfered with by outside influencers, including governmental bodies. By upholding the ethics complaint, the Senate is setting a dangerous precedent: if you are a candidate, speaking with the press-even with no intent to influence others, even without the publication of said influential material- you could be subjected to a penalty.

Another issue, as alarming as the ethics complaint, is that Senate seems to have failed in fully understanding the Student Senate Election Rules. According to the Election Rules, campaigning is defined as “any activity that is intended to influence voting at an election.” Answering a journalist’s question truthfully about running for Senate cannot possibly be misconstrued as actively trying to influence voters.

This Editorial Board understands the need for rules regulating election proceedings, especially ones that govern campaigning. National election campaigns are bad enough; UWRF doesn’t need a nine-month Senate campaign smeared across our lovely, scenic campus. But what UWRF does need is a Senate that both understands those election rules and their definitions, as well as one that doesn’t attempt to block, interfere with or punish individuals who speak to a free press. After all, the free press is Constitutionally guaranteed, and aren’t governmental bodies, no matter what size, supposed to uphold the Constitution?