ASUNM failed a bill last week that would have removed annual funding for three UNM student publications — the Daily Lobo, Conceptions Southwest and Best Student Essays — and forced them to apply for funding through annual budget hearings.
Senators Theo Pirone-Aufrichtig and Hannah Williams co-sponsored Bill 13S, which sought to remove the 8.5 percent of student fees annually allocated to Student Publications, in an effort to install oversight at a time when less and less funds are available for student groups.
If passed, the bill would have gone before the Senate and, if passed, would have been placed on the ballot for student vote in fall.
“I encourage the Daily Lobo to come through the budget process, attend that budget workshop, ,attend that budget hearing, have more communication with us on where that money is going,” Williams said at a Steering and Rules Committee meeting on Wednesday, adding that the 8.5 percent accounts for around $70,000 and ASUNM wanted to fight for Student Publications to be funded through SFRB.
Pirone-Aufrichtig said he doesn’t know of any other agency, student organization, public or independent media that gets 8.5 percent of the budget with “no oversight (and) no voting.”
The structure has been in place since 1979.
“I think the money, if it could be spent in different ways, could actually go toward some really beneficial things for students, such as expanding scholarships and funding more exciting opportunities for student organizations as well,” he said.
ASUNM Director of Communications Gabe Gallegos showed support for Student Publications and his opposition toward the bill, saying it would hinder editorial independence.
Gallegos emphasized that good policy comes from “bringing everybody to the table” and the process should be an “open and collaborative” dialogue, including an official meeting set up with the Student Publications Board and the editorial staff of the Daily Lobo.
“It’s a very dangerous road, to put the cart before the horse on this one,” he said, adding that to cut funding on the prediction of getting SFRB funds is “hasty” and that there needs to be a clear funding mechanism for Student Publications.
The Daily Lobo didn’t receive notification about the legislation until hours before the meeting. At the meeting, Williams took responsibility for the delay in communication which led to the late notice.
“This isn’t by any means supposed to be a hit out of the blue,” she said.
Despite the short notice, many members of the Daily Lobo newsroom and advertising office were present at the meeting Wednesday night.
Editor-in-Chief David Lynch addressed the committee in the public comments portion of the meeting to defend the current structure of Student Publications funding.
Like ASUNM and every student organization on campus, the Daily Lobo provides a service that is open to every student, Lynch said. He said the bill would force future Daily Lobo staffers to go through the budget process, forming a “tether” with ASUNM and removing editorial freedom.
“We pride ourselves on being a free and independent press,” he said. “What that means is being independent, free from any tethers that might limit our editorial freedom.”
Lynch pointed out that the student fees allow free access of the Daily Lobo, in the form of a “subscription fee” via student fees that comes out to between $3 and $4 per student annually.
“I would hope that everyone agrees, that’s a pretty good price to pay for access to information that is UNM-centered and UNM-based,” he said. “We just found out about this legislation a couple hours ago; these are conversations we would have been happy to have beforehand.”
Pirone-Aufrichtig said he didn’t believe anyone on the committee had any issues with having a free and independent press, reminding those in the room that the public media often goes through these budgetary processes, citing the NMSU constitution as an example.
“I believe that sometimes you have to be able to start a fire to be able to attract the attention that you need to the issue,” he said, referencing the presence of Daily Lobo staffers. “I can see that the fire has indeed attracted the attention. I am looking forward to deliberations on this.”
Senator Mason Martinez urged that the bill go “back to the drawing board,” echoing concerns about hindering editorial independence.
“I don’t see this Senate as having aggression towards the Daily Lobo because they do controversial things, both within the community and within ASUNM, and I think that’s really important,” he said.
Martinez voiced concerns that the legislation would set the stage for possible future ASUNM officials to have a “vendetta” against the Daily Lobo, so they can cut the budget.
“I don’t like seeing concerned students, and I don’t want them to feel like they’re left in the wind and we’re not here to help them,” Pirone-Aufrichtig said, adding that he spoke to individuals within the Daily Lobo prior and explained that this legislation would go to committee.
Although Pirone-Aufrichtig made funding suggestions to individuals on the Daily Lobo staff, no legislative actions were ever confirmed or mentioned until the night of the meeting.
“I do not see this bill leaving the room tonight. I did not realize that there was this lack of communication. Frankly, I myself am a little upset to see this is where it’s going and I do not want to paint ASUNM in this sort of way,” he said, “I think it would be wise to cease discussion and table it for another committee.”
Matthew Reisen is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MReisen88.