Sep. 22, 2019  

SPJ Florida urges FIU to revise Athletics Media Relations Policy

A public university’s athletic media relations policy is violating both the First and Fifth Amendment — and student media along with its coverage is suffering because of it.

Around the time when Florida International University’s student media outlet would usually release a football preview, instead its staff announced it would no longer cover football.

“We would have loved to use this space for a preview of the upcoming football season, instead, we decided to voice our concerns about our relationship with FIU athletic communications,” PantherNOW Sports Director Dalton Tevlin said in a column.

The students severed ties with the university’s athletic program after being denied proper media credentials. They said it’s been an ongoing problem. Since then, FIU Athletics reversed its stance and gave the students the access they need to cover the program.

PantherNOW’s move to stop covering football prompted FIU Athletics to change, but it shouldn’t have come to that,” SPJ Florida President Emily Bloch said. “We condemn FIU Football media personnel for not initially giving student media the same access as other outlets. That said, we applaud PantherNOW for taking a stand.”

Still, there are issues.

On Sept. 20, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Student Press Law Center and SPJ Florida co-signed a letter to the school’s president, urging the school to revisit its problematic Athletic Media Relations policy.

“FIRE, SPLC, and SPJ Florida are concerned by the threat to freedom of expression at Florida International University posed by the university’s policy on ‘Athletic Media Relations,’ which limits certain media access to athletic events to those journalists who have been granted credentials,” the letter said.

“This policy fails to clearly identify who is eligible for press credentials and to delineate a process for appealing credential denials. The policy further provides that credentials ‘may be revoked at any time without cause,’ extending unfettered discretion to administrators to revoke credentials for any reason.”

The letter goes on to explain how the standing policy violates both the First and Fifth Amendments by failing to guarantee how the credentialing decisions will be made and failing to comply with due process requirements.

“We recognize that FIU Athletics quickly granted PantherNOW press credentials shortly after its journalists publicly reported on their lack of access,” the letter said. “Yet even if this injury was the result of bureaucratic error and was not motivated by dislike of the students’ reporting, a policy with objective standards and adequate procedural safeguards would have helped insulate the university against credible concerns that its actions are in furtherance of censorship.”

SPJ Florida, FIRE and the Student Press Law Center are urging the school to revise its policy and respond by Oct. 4.

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