“Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.”
– Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
Journalists reporting for the San Francisco Foghorn are hindered from following this ethical code because of the way the newspaper is funded. The funding for the Foghorn is determined by USF’s student government, the Associated Students of the University of San Francisco Senate. Senate allocates the student activity fee, a $97 fee each student pays every semester, among different clubs and organizations on campus including student-run media outlets. The student government determining the funding for student media is a serious conflict of interest. The Foghorn has an obligation to provide its readers with relevant information — this includes information about the student government. Senate makes decisions that directly affect student life at USF; the students deserve to be made aware of such decisions. However, the Foghorn cannot provide accurate and fair coverage of Senate while the senators have the power to determine the newspaper’s funding. With this funding structure, Foghorn journalists are put in the unethical position of potentially having to censor themselves to insure the continuation of our publication.
Last May, Senate voted 7-6 to cut the Foghorn’s number of issues in half for the Fall 2013 semester. Senators chose to implement a review system for the newspaper, in which they will critique the issue to determine if it meets their standards
The decision of one student, in the 7-6 vote, was capable of censoring the voice of the hundreds of students who utilize the Foghorn as a means for expression. ASUSF senators are elected officials whose job it is to represent the students — they are a “voice” for the greater student body. So is the Foghorn. The student newspaper is a forum for student voice, and to have one representative student body silencing the voice of another is wrong. It is an unethical decision within an unethical system, fraught with conflicts of interest. Students are censoring other students by taking away the Foghorn’s ability to publish relevant, timely news. It seems as though Senate does not understand that what they are doing is inherently unethical — we believe that the time has come for the senators to be made aware of the impropriety of their decision. It is also time for a restructuring of the funding system for student media organizations.
The Foghorn budget can no longer be determined by the student government on which the Foghorn must report. It is a blatant conflict of interest that limits our ability to report honestly about Senate as long as they are providing our funding. Funding for media needs to be a set amount — a specific amount from each student’s fee, for example. The University must make changes to remove this conflict of interest in order to operate ethically and to allow their student journalists to report ethically as well.
Senate wants to evaluate the quality of the paper—deciding by their own standards what is worthy of publication. The media’s role is to inform and serve the public freely, with no government interference or censorship. A government-controlled press is not a free press.