First Amendment Breached by Student Union?News, Student Orgs, UCF SGA — By Staff on February 22, 2010 at 4:37 pm
SGA officials threatened to call UCF Police on KnightNews.com reporters for covering the SGA election outside the Student Union Monday.
This new right of access controversy comes after KnightNews.com threatened to take legal action against SGA, and had to contact attorneys who oversee Florida’s State University System, in order to get a copy of the $15 million budget SGA has been blasted for allocating over Winter Break when dorms were closed and most students were not in town.
Today’s controversy started when KnightNews.com content manager and reporter Cliff Jett was setting up a table to establish a live video stream of the election activity happening outside the union to provide live reports and interviews with candidates and voters.
As KnightNews.com tried setting up the table, a member of the Kilbride/Lochrane campaign was seen walking toward the election commission.
Minutes later, a staff member of the Student Union, an SGA entity over which Shane Chism has some authority in his official capacity of Comptroller, came and told KnightNews.com it couldn’t set up a table — even in the free speech area.
KnightNews.com reporters then abandoned our livestream coverage attempt, and instead talked to students about the election on camera.
As that was happening, Comptroller Chism — and Kilbride campaigner — walked up to a KnightNews.com crew and said, “Didn’t they tell you you weren’t allowed to record?”
Chism then proceeded to walk over the election commission and brought an election commissioner over, who could not be immediately identified, who also said, “Didn’t the people from the Union tell you you weren’t allowed to record?”
The KnightNews.com crew informed the SGA officials the Union only said a table could not be set up. At this point, KnightNews.com walked inside the Union and talked to the information desk about Chism confronting us. The employee at the information desk called upstairs, and a decision was made to allow KnightNews.com to record on another side of the sidewalk.
Knightnews.com crews then stood on the side of the line where recording was not allowed, with our cameras packed away out of sight, and discussed the legal and first amendment issues raised by forbidding campus media to fully cover the election.
At that point, SGA Chief Election Commissioner Marlee Populder and KnightNews.com owner Andrew Stein discussed the situation together. Stein said it was ridiculous for them to tell media they can’t record video, when media always conducts interviews in that space near the Union on a regular basis.
Stein asked what SGA would do if we recorded on the other side of the line anyway, and it was at that point when Popluder informed Stein, as a courtesy, that other SGA officials were threatening to call the police on KnightNews.com if they shot video over the sidewalk.
During this time, a student was taking pictures of the Kilbride campaign and interviewing his campaigners on the side of the line KnightNews.com was forbidden from doing “any media stuff” on. KnightNews.com took a photo of that individual taking photos on that side of the line to document the additional access he was given.
It appeared this student was part of a competing media organization on campus, but it’s not clear why that student was granted more access than KnightNews.com. However, Kilbride campaigners were posing for pictures as the individual was gathering information, and we did not see any Kilbride campaigners or SGA elections officials order that person to the other side of the line.
Similar controversies have erupted before about who can setup where outside the Union, but they usually involved student groups protesting, like Students for a Democratic Society. This is the first time KnightNews.com is aware of a media organization being ordered to the other side of the line.
Another group ordered to the other side of the line was the El Corral restaurant, which was out endorsing the Seeff/Wolkenfeld campaign, because they were not a campus-approved vendor and it apparently violated contract rights Union vendors have to serve food outside the Union.
However, since media are not serving any food, it raises serious first amendment issues for SGA to order a student publication to stand on one side of the line, while another is not given such restrictions.
KnightNews.com is researching the legality of granting one media organization less access than another, and also whether Chism may have overstepped his power during the controversy.
KnightNews.com is once again considering legal action as a result of these access issues, and the harm it suffered while trying to prove its ability to cover the most important event this semester. A copy of this article is being forwarded to the UCF General Counsel, UCF Police, UCF Union Managment, SGA Advisors with the hope that a compromise can be made, before KnightNews.com once again contacts state officials in Tallahassee to ask them to intervene.
Check back for more information on this developing story.
A note from KnightNews: Even though NikkiNicho is upset with some content of KnightNews.com, we appreciate her comments and dialogue, as she has pointed out to us Free Speech is becoming a problem again at UCF. As a result, KnightNews.com is starting a new segment: Our Fight for Free Speech. We will follow this story.
KnightNews.com promises to fight for you, no matter what your message is, to give you free speech on campus. If you or your RSO is being silenced by anyone at UCF, KnightNews.com wants to know. Please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org reporting any activity you feel violates your free speech. KnightNews.com does want to know: If UCF employees think nothing of pushing around campus media, would they give any second thought to doing it to the voiceless? We want to give you that voice and promise to stand with any student — regardless of message, SGA political beliefs, or which campus media outlet they work at — in fighting for your Free Speech.