Tuesday, April 19, 2011

OSC and Censorship

There's an op-ed in the Daily Cal today from Josh Wolf, a graduate student of journalism whose recent conduct hearing gave rise to what we have labeled "the new censorship" -- the attempt by UC officials to prohibit students from using Twitter at inopportune moments. In the article, Wolf deals with a different form of censorship, one that mediates the relationship between the UC and journalism. (It is worth noting that Wolf previously served 226 days in federal prison for protecting a source -- longer than any other US journalist.)
On Nov. 20, 2009, a group of students occupied Wheeler Hall in protest of the impending fee hike and the way the UC spends what money it has. It was my first semester at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, and although we aren't exactly encouraged to focus our reporting on the campus, I knew this was a story I wouldn't want to miss.


For more than a year now, the Center for Student Conduct has acknowledged that my role was that of a journalist and not a participant. But the campus still insists that I face sanctions for simply being inside the building.

Their position is that I'm a student first and a journalist second. When those responsibilities conflict, student conduct insists my role as a student takes precedence. In other words, when the police ordered the protesters to take down their barricade, it became my responsibility to overpower the protesters and open the door.

In fact, during the first part of my hearing, UCPD Lieutenant DeColoude said that it would've been acceptable for me to physically interfere with the students in order to help the police, provided I used "reasonable force."

I'm not sure how he defines "reasonable force," but in the two years I've spent studying journalism at UC Berkeley, I haven't heard any of my professors talk about when it's appropriate to beat up your subjects.

While I've never believed in objectivity, I do believe that it is my job to remain independent and avoid interfering as much as possible. After all, if journalists are forced to work as agents of the police, then their sources won't trust them and the entire campus community will suffer.

Similarly, if student journalists fear conduct charges for aggressively covering contentious issues on campus, they will become much more cautious, and our community will again suffer. The Supreme Court has ruled that government has a duty to inoculate against such a chilling effect.
That quote from Lt. Decoloude is priceless.

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