ASU's Tempe Undergraduate Student Government media guidelines unfairly limit dissent

It’s been a controversial week for Tempe Undergraduate Student Government. The organization has developed deeply flawed media relations practices, and the past few days have fully revealed its defects.

A Tempe USG senator was impeached Tuesday for violating media guidelines by speaking with one of our reporters without informing her government's leaders. The official rule, according to a document in which Tempe USG outlines its expectations for senators, mandates that all senators must inform Tempe USG President Cassidy Possehl or Senate President Will Smith of any intention to address media, regardless of whether those comments involve USG.

The expectations also require senators to "actively publicly participate in all marketing strategies" and to refrain from "publicizing or announcing internal issues within Undergraduate Student Government, unless told so."

A Tempe USG press release explained that its “policy asks solely that the President of the Senate or the President of USG is notified prior so that our organization is on the forefront of our public relations.”

That’s great political misdirection, but students can see through it. Stripped of superficial phrasing, Tempe USG is telling its members, “Let us know what you’re going to say beforehand so we can figure out how to make ourselves look good.”

There is no reason to believe that Tempe USG is made more effective by having members report to leadership every time they want to express an opinion to the press. Senators are not the USG or senate president's minions, and they are not necessarily the president's friends. They are the representatives of the student body, and their goal shouldn’t be to ensure a good image of Tempe USG.

Nor should they be required to remain quiet about issues within USG or participate blindly in marketing strategies. Student government is intended to be a model of real-world parliamentary procedure, and real-world policymakers are not constrained by similar restrictions. In fact, state or federal legislative bodies being limited by similar media restrictions would be unacceptable and scandalized.

Tempe USG should not be simply a team. It should be an organization grounded in diversity of of viewpoints where senators’ opinions can be expressed to others in full force.

Senators could very well want to express an unpopular view without giving Tempe USG the opportunity to prepare savvy speeches repeating its president's party line. To restrict senators from doing so is authoritarian and wrong. The only people who this policy benefits are those with the delusion that student government’s priority should be to look good.

By making expressing opinions cumbersome and risky, Tempe USG also limits our ability to fully disclose the happenings of student government. It is vital that we're able to give you the opportunity to form a knowledgeable opinion of your student leaders. We want our sources to feel comfortable speaking their minds to us. We want a transparent, honest relationship with USG.

Instead, senators could feel strong-armed into tempering their opinions to avoid being on the wrong side of leadership. Tempe USG should simply trust that the elected members of student government will express themselves accurately, and let them be held accountable for what they say.

In other words, these rules need to start being grounded in the real world. After all, the media serves the vital purpose of keeping our government in check. The relationship between government and media doesn’t need to be tense, and by following these media guidelines, Tempe USG is certainly creating a strained atmosphere for both its senators and the media.

A part of USG’s purpose is to train those with aspirations of public service to be good civic leaders in the future. Giving the impression that the media is something to be feared is not a good step in those ambitions, and it shatters the transparency Tempe USG swears it wants to promote.

We’ll leave Tempe USG with an invitation to contact us for a discussion about improving media guidelines, as well as a little reminder: USG stands for Undergraduate Student Government, not United Student Government.


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