Withholding funds violates laws

My jaw dropped in horror as I read Tracy D. Wright’s article a couple of weeks ago covering the SGA Senate meeting. Specifically, I was disturbed by the comments made by Veronica Gray, SGA solicitor general.

According to the article (SGA Senate hears pleas for funding, March 21), Gray urged senators to deny The Famuan additional funding because of “their inability to accurately report the news.”

The article further went on to attribute Gray’s feelings to a March 5 article in The Famuan that contained an excerpt of an affidavit.

I am appalled that Gray would even have the audacity to make such a statement in a public meeting-a statement urging her colleagues to essentially break the law.

That’s right – withholding funds from the student newspaper is against the law.

It is a blatant violation of the First Amendment.

According to the Student Press Law Center Web site, the courts have ruled that if “a school creates a student news or information medium and allows students to serve as editors, the First Amendment drastically limits the school’s ability to censor.”

Withdrawing or reducing financial support is among those actions considered censoring at a public school, and FAMU is a public school.

The Student Press Law Center also states that the law is clear that SGA cannot “legally use their funding power to punish (the paper) for engaging in lawful speech activities.”

An organization or an individual does not have the right to threaten the newspaper’s funding because they don’t like what is printed about them.

The purpose of the newspaper is to report the news.

One problem is some of our student officials seem unaware that if something happens in a public meeting, like an SGA meeting, it can be printed in the newspaper. Don’t be upset because you said something you should not have, and read it in the paper the next day.

Another problem is many people don’t know the law.

The journalism faculty, including The Famuan’s adviser, is well versed in all aspects of journalism, including media law. If someone feels uncomfortable talking to one of them, take a media law class.

If SGA continues to function as it has been – uneducated as to how they treat the media – they will eventually do something that is illegal.

And trust me, student journalists will know how to take action, because we know the law and we know our rights.

Crystal Y. Lewis, 23, is a graduate journalism student. She can be reached at sansamor@hotmail.com.