Giving a Green Light to the Media

The University wavered in its commitment to First Amendment freedoms last week.

By Maroon Editorial Board

An NBC News crew was not granted access to the main quad to videotape students protesting what they see as the corporatization of the University last Thursday. The protest, organized by the IIRON Student Network (ISN), involved a 150+ person march across campus and a sit-in in Levi Hall by 34 students and alumni. The sit-in ended at 5 p.m., when the building closed and the UCPD escorted protesters out. The protesters demanded a meeting with administrators—following a lack of administrative attendance at public meetings hosted by student groups including Fair Budget UChicago, the Campaign for Equitable Policing, Students for Disability Justice, and UChicago Climate Action Network—but were unsuccessful. According to IIRON, this was the largest protest on campus in at least three years.

Organizers of the protest contacted local and national media outlets, including NBC News, to solicit coverage. According to one of the organizers, second-year Hannah Breslau, the University denied the TV crew access to the quad to videotape and interview students, who were inside Levi Hall and gathered outside the building on the quad-facing side. The press was required to stay on the street-facing side of Levi, which is public property, and shoot video from there. The University’s policy states that outside media should contact the News Office before arriving on campus, and TV crews must obtain prior permission to enter the quad.

The protest last Thursday presented a case in which the University should have granted NBC News, and any other outside media, permission to enter the quad to report on what was taking place. The University has the right to decide who can and cannot have access to campus because it is private property, but it has an obligation to be consistent in its stance on First Amendment freedoms. There are privacy and safety concerns that may occasionally justify restrictions preventing TV crews and reporters from entering the quad—students and staff should be able to go about their lives without the threat of public harassment—but such concerns were not apparent in this case.

Respect for freedom of speech, freedom of protest, and freedom of the press are all deeply woven into the fabric of UChicago, which earned a “Green Light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) earlier this year. Despite the fact that NBC News did not make prior arrangements to cover last week’s protest on campus, the University acted contrary to its own principles by denying reporters access to the quad.

The Maroon Editorial Board