SPJ send support letter to editors amid SGA freezing paper’s funds

INDIANAPOLIS, IN– Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter of support Tuesday to editors of the Montclair State University student publication,
The Montclarion.Last week, the university’s student government association president froze funding to publish the weekly newspaper after disagreements rose over some association meetings being conducted in private.

According to a New York Times story, the issue began in November when The Montclarion’s editor-in-chief asked for Student Government Association (SGA) meetings to be open to the press.

Before the meeting, an attorney retained by The Montclarion spoke with the student journalists about their rights. Following that meeting, SGA President Ron Chicken asked for correspondence between the attorney and the newspaper’s editors, which the editors refused to provide.

The following day, Chicken sent a letter of termination to the attorney, who was paid for with student funds. However, Chicken continued requesting copies of communication between the paper and the attorney. The Montclarion staff then began publishing articles and editorials criticizing Chicken and the actions of the SGA. Currently, the Student Press Law Center is working to retain an attorney for The Montclarion staff.

“This dispute should demonstrate to all college journalists that they need to carefully examine the relationship their media have with student government,” said Neil Ralston, SPJ’s vice president for campus chapter affairs. “And if they aren’t happy at what they see, they should check out SPJ’s Campus Media Statement program, which is designed to help protect student media from attempts at censorship.”

The SPJ Campus Media Statement program is available on the Society’s web site.

In the letter issued by SPJ, the Society’s leaders expressed support for the editors and staff of The Montclarion as they work to force the Montclair State University SGA to stop conducting business behind closed doors.

Furthermore, SPJ condemns the recent move by the SGA to freeze funding for The Montclarion in an attempt to prevent the newspaper from being printed. Not only did the SGA’s action deprive University students of a print edition that they had already paid for, it cost The Montclarion thousands of dollars in advertising revenue and subjected the University to negative publicity across the country.

“When student governments take oppressive actions against student journalists then all students lose,” said David Cuillier, chairman of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee. “A vibrant and free press that has access to government information is essential if students are going to know what’s going on and trust their elected leaders.”

To read the complete letter, visit SPJ.org.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ and SDX, please visit www.spj.org.