Assessing the Level of Administrative Censorship and Control in Student Newspapers in Ontario
In the now famous documentary Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky (1992) differentiates between the structure of the professional and student press. Chomsky argues that the professional press is governed by an elite body, whereas the student press is not. In fact, Chomsky notes that the student press is often ignored as a media source unless it takes steps to radically break medial and societal conventions. It is only then that the student press feels pressure from the authoritative class.
In the professional press, it can no longer be disputed that the media is under the close watch of the authoritative class, and subsequently, the media is often censored. Whether it is a silenced profanity in a prime-time Hollywood movie, or the complete exclusion of opinion regarding a controversial news issue, the pubic rarely gets to see the full picture. The underlying question regarding censorship is, what is the motivation? The answer is painfully simple: profit and influence (Bagdikian, 1992). News media in particular are susceptible to very specific types of censorship. Owners want to influence their audiences and profit from them. And to ensure that their goals are met, owners and publishers pay great attention to the content and slant of the news, because if the public doesn’t tune in, the owner loses both money and potential influence.
University publications, on the other hand, are run on a different set of goals and values. The goals of student publications are not profit and influence, but information and education. Because the goals are different, the process, ownership, and organization of the newspaper are inherently different. Many university publications receive funding from either the university administration directly or from another university source such as a students’ union. And “although salaries and news production costs often are paid by administrators, few believe that there is a correlation between funding and news selection” (Bodle, 1994, p. 907). But is this true? How much control does the funding body of a student publication have over content and slant? This study will aim to address these questions by examining the level of administrative control and censorship in student newspapers across Ontario using David Taras’ ownership model, and Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s propaganda model, as the defining theoretical frameworks.
Four primary research questions are going to be considered: (1) How often and why does the funding body (excluding advertising revenue) attempt to control the content of the student publication, and how successful are they? (2) Under what circumstances do editors-in-chief or executive editors of university publications feel pressured, either directly or indirectly, by the funding body to censor or tailor the content of the newspaper, and under what circumstances do editors oblige? (3) From the editor’s point of view, how does the funding body handle situations in which unfavourable content has been published in a university publication? (4) What do editors see as the prime function of the student press? What measures are taken to ensure that this mandate is fulfilled?