Representatives of UC Berkeley’s student government, landlords of the Daily Californian, an independent paper aimed at UC Berkeley students, have declared war on the paper’s editors, threatening to evict the paper unless editors sign off on editorial stipulations in a draft lease renewal agreement.
While the paper and the American Civil Liberties Union claim the fracas boils down to an effort to muzzle a free press, student government leaders say they are simply trying to “to address readers’ complaints about issues of race gender and other forms of discriminatory harassment.”
Under the terms of the proposed lease offered by the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC)—which remains unsigned— the paper must establish a code of conduct after discussions with students and hire an ombudsperson to represent reader interests.
Should the paper fail to comply within the first two years of the five-year agreement, the ASUC can void the lease.
Calling the provisions an “unacceptable infringement on editorial content,” Daily Californian Editor-in-Chief Eric Schewe set next Thursday as a deadline for signing a stipulation-free lease before the privately funded paper considers filing suit against the ASUC.
Liberal and Leftist student organizations have long accused the paper of unfair coverage of minorities and of making insensitive editorial and business decisions.
Two years ago the paper ran a paid advertisement on Feb. 28—the final day of Black History Month—from right-wing stalwart David Horowitz criticizing reparations to Blacks who trace their roots to slavery.
Last May the paper caught flak for what critics said was biased coverage singling out the arrest of African American football player Michael Gray in connection with a fraternity brawl. The paper apologized for the advertisement but defended the news coverage.
The Daily Californian, which returned to campus in 1994, has been leasing its office month-to-month since last year. The drive to include code of conduct provisions in the lease began this summer after left-wing undergraduate student party CalServe swept into power and shifted the makeup of the powerful ASUC Store Operations Board—which negotiates leases on behalf of the student government.
Board members—students, faculty and administrative staff—insist the stipulations are worded gingerly enough so as not to impact editorial content while forcing the paper staff to engage in communication with different campus groups.
“Many communities are not happy with the paper,” said Graduate Student President and Store Operations Board member Jessica Quindel. “They want the paper to be more responsive to the community.”
Quindel defended the legality of the lease proposal, insisting that the paper was free to adopt its own code of ethics and choose how it wanted to present it to the campus. She compared the provisions in the lease to recent board efforts to ban the university clothing store from selling clothes manufactured in sweatshops and require campus coffee merchants to offer a fair trade brew.
Support for the lease stipulations were not limited to only student members of the board.
In July the board voted unanimously in favor of demanding the code of ethics. A second vote to follow up the code with a mandated discussion by editors with the campus community passed by one vote.
Board member and Haas School of Business Professor Pete Bucklin said he was confident the board wasn’t violating the paper’s First Amendment rights, adding that “it would have been nice if the [the paper] had volunteered to put the stipulations in [the lease].”
The local ACLU chapter wrote in a Sept. 2 opinion that the lease provision was “an unacceptable tool of control over the Daily Californian’s editorial content and would operate as a chilling effect on the newspapers’ reporting on the Regents’ activities.”
The letter’s authors, Barbara McNabb and James Chanin, threatened to sue to prevent the lease provisions from going into effect.
Schewe said the Daily Californian already follows the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and has a reader’s representative independent from the editorial staff. He said he was also open to scheduling public meetings on campus, but that efforts to reconcile with various campus groups could not be tied to the new lease.
The lease drama has dragged on partly due to forces outside the control of the paper and the Store Operations Board.
Board members canceled their September meeting Wednesday after the ASUC Judicial Board disqualified the two graduate school store board members Quindel and Cintya Molina because, contrary to the ASUC Constitution, they had not been ratified by the ASUC Senate.
They are expected to sail through an ASUC Senate Confirmation next week, but the next board meeting isn’t scheduled until October.
Schewe said he wanted to stay on campus where it is easier to recruit new students, but that the paper was exploring the private rental market and any further delay on the lease could shut the paper out of prime office space. He has called for an emergency meeting of the Store Operations Board next week to hammer out the lease.
Schewe said the Daily Cal pays the ASUC $72,000 annually, and the proposed new lease would reduce rent in return for more free advertising space for the ASUC. Nonetheless, Schewe said moving off campus was a “very strong consideration” since he could get a better deal from a private landlord.
A move off-campus would not necessarily preclude a lawsuit against the ASUC, he said, saying that the decision would be up to the paper’s Board of Directors.