The board that publishes the Daily Aztec, San Diego State University's student newspaper, Wednesday overruled a 2-day-old ban on abortion-related commercial advertising instituted by the publication's editor.
But the editor, Jon Petersen, 22, vowed to continue the prohibition against advertising by abortion referral services until the board produces a new policy of its own.
"Right now, we don't have an approved advertising policy, so it's still up to the editor-in-chief," Petersen said. "Until they set a new policy, everything is business as usual."
Petersen instituted the ban beginning with Monday's back-to-school issue of the Daily Aztec, saying abortion referral ads violate the "rights of the unborn." The announcement immediately triggered a controversy both within the Daily Aztec and in the SDSU community.
The Publications Authority Board, which includes students, faculty and administrators, rejected Petersen's advertising policy by a vote of 5 to 3. The board then established a committee that will draft its own version of the policy within two weeks.
"In my knowledge, never has the board set policy for the Aztec--that has always been the prerogative of the student editors," board chairman Lee Brown told his colleagues before the vote. Brown, a journalism professor, voted against the proposal to break that precedent.
But other board members said the hands-off approach to the student newspaper had to change. "If the practice of the board has been to defer to the editor. . . . I guess I am opposed to that tradition," said Prof. Neil Brady. "The only thing I can fall back on is this enormous national debate that we have had on abortion and look at what the courts have ruled. . . . Abortions are legal in the state of California."
Previous Editor's Policy
The Daily Aztec has operated for two years under a proposed policy written by a previous student editor, which states that advertising "cannot serve primarily to oppress the rights of a certain group as determined by the editor-in-chief."
The newspaper regularly accepted abortion referral advertising until Petersen reinterpreted the stance one week ago to include human fetuses.
The proposed policy has never been approved by the publications board, leaving open the question of whether the panel has the power to overrule Petersen.
The 76-year-old newspaper has a history of legal disputes with the university over its policies. In 1987, the newspaper won a federal court decision against the state that allowed it to endorse political candidates and initiatives. And it continues to publish advertising from companies selling term papers, despite criticism from school officials that the documents are plagiarized by students.
That issue, too, will come before the new committee when it drafts an advertising policy for the Aztec, Brown said.
Petersen's sudden announcement had caused a stir within his own staff, with some editors saying they should have a voice in such decisions. Others publicly criticized Petersen in their own sections of the paper.
But Wednesday, even some student editors who disagreed with Petersen stood behind their boss. "I had interpreted (the policy) differently," said Matt Dathe, the advertising manager and former editor-in-chief of the Aztec. "But John does and should have the authority to make his own decision."
An audience packed with Petersen's critics accused him of applying his personal views to the newspaper's policy. "You do not have the right to (force) your moral views on this school and this newspaper," said SDSU senior Brian Worthington.
Petersen countered that the ban does not apply to political pro-choice advertising, only to commercial abortion-referral ads.
Another board member, SDSU spokesman Rick Moore, said it was the board that was exceeding its authority. "I believe Publications Authority is here not to set policies for the Daily Aztec, but to protect it from the efforts of the administration" to do the same, Moore said.
Brown said the real issue at stake was freedom of the press, not abortion.
"That's what I would have done," he said when told of Petersen's vow to continue the ban. "Perhaps he is defying some individual members of the board . . . but the board left no specific instructions."
Brown said that, if the board reinstates the prohibited advertising, the student editors may be able to reverse that order in court.
"I am reviewing my options," Petersen said. "I may go see a lawyer."
But another board member said the publications board had little choice but to act. "What we have been hit with today is a very emotional issue, a very controversial issue . . . that has somehow made its way into the business and advertising policy of the Aztec," said faculty member Steven Barnes.