Ahead of AOC push to 'rein in' media, one student gov moved to weaken campus paper's editorial freedom

The Emerson College student newspaper says the student government is threatening its editorial freedom by demanding that it enact a number of "anti-racist" policies.

The push by the student government came just weeks before Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocated for "media literacy" initiatives in Congress to "rein in" the press and combat "misinformation."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocated to “rein in” the media in the wake of the Capitol riots in an effort to combat “misinformation.” This came just weeks after Emerson College’s Student Government Association passed legislation condemning its campus newspaper for “racism” and after a petition demanded the paper lose funding and issue a public apology.

Emerson’s Student Government Association passed legislation demanding that the independent and student-run Berkeley Beacon newspaper apologize for alleged forms of racism, sexism, ableism. 

A petition circulated in December at the Boston-area college asked the Student Government Association to go further. It requested that “the Beacon’s funding is removed permanently and relocated [sic] to other publications for a year’s time” and further demanded that the paper give a “public apology from current Beacon members” to “marginalized reporters.”

The petition demanded that a new “publication should be created from the ashes of The Beacon.”  The petition continued, urging that the “‘new’ Beacon should be approved by SGA and a working group composed of marginalized students from POWER, ACCESS, and other intercultural organizations,” effectively requiring it to toe an orthodox “anti-racist” left-wing line on all major campus issues.  

Additionally, it demanded that “any reporter that is racist, ableist, or reinforces any type of oppression—in an article or through a verbal/online conversation...is put on probation.”  It continued, stating that if reporters don’t work to “reeducate” themselves, they should be removed from the publication.

This came as the Berkeley Beacon faced criticism for publishing a White student’s perspective on consequences they claim to have experienced for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. In response, a majority of the paper’s staff resigned in protest, alleging other mistreatment and “racism” from the paper because it did not also include a Black student’s perspective.  One signer wrote that “the paper MUST be shut down before they are allowed to produce four new generations of ignorant journalists.”  

Clear examples of racism sexism, however, were not given in the petition, however

Among the alleged examples of “racism” in the petition is a general assumption that all reporting on “marginalized” communities must gain the approval of those communities, or not be published at all.  

The Beacon issued a partial retraction of the story that prompted the backlash in early September.  There, the editors acknowledged grievances from left-wing activists on campus, saying that “the story redirected attention away from the ongoing fight for racial justice and Black lives both within our campus and nationwide.”  

The story is now housed elsewhere for “educational” purposes.

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Shortly after the retraction’s publication, the Beacon accepted many of the demands from the petition and promised to enact a set of reforms to make the paper more “anti-racist.” 

These included the “addition of diversity measures in their ethics training.”  Regardless of the paper’s commitments to certain reforms, the paper’s future remains uncertain, as the petition’s demands would place certain restrictions on its editorial freedom.

The Berkeley Beacon responded to the petition, citing the negative impacts the legislation would have, if enacted, on the freedom of the campus press. In a release, the newspaper’s leadership said the petition gives little context about institutional changes the paper had already begun implementing.  The release stated the paper is working with the Student Press Law Center to fight attacks being waged against the paper’s editorial freedom.

Campus Reform reached out to The Berkeley Beacon for further comment on these issues. A spokesman for the paper said, “The Berkeley Beacon has no comment at this time.”

Emerson’s SGA already passed legislation severely restricting the autonomy of student organizations on its campus.  In October, the assembly passed what it calls “An Act to Advocate for Marginalized Students.”  This legislation demands that “both micro- and macro-aggressions should be taken seriously and met with the highest level of urgency and care.”  In addition, it demands that White students submit to “BISOC” (Black indigenous students of color) on all issues of importance: “Predominantly White student collectives and organizations should not speak over BISOC or in their stead.”  

White students are also commanded to “call out all forms of oppression when they see it, rather than sitting in the uncomfortable silence or waiting for BISOC to speak on it.”

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The legislation demands that Organizations must make “a comprehensive and consistent effort to produce works/materials/products that accurately and responsibly represents the diversity of the world.” How organizations like The Shakespeare Society could do this is hard to comprehend.  

Richard Fucillo currently serves as Vice President of the Class of 2021, and is the contact listed for Turning Point USA at the college.  He spoke with Campus Reform over email, voicing his concerns about the enthusiasm for censorship on the campus.  He said that “while I do not agree with everything the media says or does, it is vital that it is free with no restriction.”  He added that “any attempt to silence a voice is dangerous and hopefully will be met with resistance by our intelligent journalists at Emerson College.”

Fucillo said that “most people at Emerson are to the left politically so it would basically be silencing themselves. He lamented that “it’s definitely not the easiest thing being a conservative at Emerson due to the fact we do not get much representation.”

Another student, Benjamin Levine, opposed the Student Government’s attempts to censor The Beacon. Levine told Campus Reform that “although I admire the fact students want to protect and uplift marginalized communities, I think they are participating in censorship to a degree similar to the Soviet Union or other communist countries.”  

He lamented the negative impacts that the measures would have on freedom of speech on campus, saying “You can’t protect the needs of a few by silencing the rest, and that’s unfortunately what one of the best journalism schools in the country is doing: going against the principles of freedom of speech and the first amendment on the basis of white supremacy and racism.”

Campus Reform reached out to the SGA for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Leo_Thuman