Staff Editorial: When is the news (or ad) not fit to print

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March 6, 2007

8:21 PM

The Flat Hat has recently received comments regarding a perceived lack of judgment in our decision to print an advertisement entitled “What is Sexual Virtue?” which appeared in our Feb. 23 edition. This advertisement has been harshly criticized for the viewpoints it advocated — premarital abstinence, the increased likelihood of interracial relations leading to unhappy marriages and the notion of emotional inferiority in women. This one incident of controversial material brings up the broader issue of censorship in our pages — an issue that has appeared in the past and is certain to resurface in the future.

p. The Flat Hat reserves the right to refuse and censor advertising and content — and we have done so before. While we may not necessarily agree with the particular stance of an ad, we do not find it in our best interest or in the best interest of those who value an open campus press to refuse publication of an advertisement unless exceptional circumstances warrant such censorship. Our staff discussed whether or not to print the ad and ultimately chose to do so because we agreed that it was neither obscene nor directly threatening to anyone.

p. The Flat Hat does not currently have a concrete rubric for examining the appropriateness of ads; submissions are handled on a case-by-case basis. Ads and content that are obscene, pornographic, blatantly threatening or that libel or attack individual persons or groups are examples of cases where censorship would be appropriate and thus implemented.

p. However, the factual accuracy of an ad is the responsibility of the person or group who submits it, and, as always, readers are welcome to submit their own opinions in response. As with any form of advertising, a viewer and a consumer must approach each ad with a critical eye. One cannot believe everything one reads or sees in advertisements.

p. The debate involving censorship, decency and responsibility is not new to this campus. Recently, the Sex Workers’ Art Show caused a similarly heated debate, and College President Gene Nichol said that, regardless of his own personal opinion, it was not his place to censor campus groups. In our coverage of the show and the campus response, The Flat Hat included a photograph of a performer in the show handling a dildo in a way some saw as inappropriate.

p. In this case, the photo — which was printed in a non-sensational, discrete way on the fourth page — appeared because it was relevant to the story and was essential in helping readers understand the Sex Workers’ Art Show and why it had caused such an uproar.

p. In the same way that the College did not censor the Art Show, our editorial staff chose to allow both the photo and the aforementioned advertisement to print. While readers may disagree with certain ads or content, our staff has upheld the principles of free speech except in rare cases where the content was illegal, immoral or posed an imminent threat to people. We chose not to print the names of rape victims, even when other campus publications exposed their identities.

p. On Blowout last year, we withheld threatening information at the request of campus police for reasons of public safety. The Flat Hat will continue to show restraint and censorship when it is warranted while simultaneously remaining committed to the ideals of a free and open newspaper.

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