Daily Cal fee referendum placed on ASUC election ballot

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UC Berkeley students will vote this April during the 2012 ASUC general election on whether to approve a student fee to support The Daily Californian.

The ASUC Senate voted Wednesday night to put the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative before students asking whether they support a $2 per semester student fee to help reduce the risk of the Daily Cal losing its print editions. If passed, the referendum would last five years and generate about $93,800 revenue yearly for the newspaper as well as a mandatory return to student aid.

Tomer Ovadia, editor in chief of the Daily Cal, said this money would help fill an estimated $200,000 annual budget deficit that has been filled in recent years with the help of donations. The yearly budget of the paper is about $850,000, according to Ovadia.

He added that the Daily Cal’s dire financial situation is a result of “structural shifts” in the journalism industry and that, in an effort to increase advertising revenue, the newspaper has restructured its sales department and updated its website.

“I wish we could have found a new model for the newspaper industry,” Ovadia said. “But we’re at a point where we need support to remain financially solvent.”

The referendum was placed on the ballot after the Daily Cal petitioned around 1,700 student signatures — surpassing the 1,000 amount the newspaper was told it needed to gather, according to Lynn Yu, the Daily Cal’s campaign manager for the referendum.

However, Yu said the petitions were not approved by the UC Office of the President before they were initially distributed. The president’s office then had minor changes to the language of the referendum, which, if changed, would invalidate all the petitions the Daily Cal had already gathered, Yu said.

In response, a senate committee approved the $2 student fee on Monday in order to avoid requiring that the Daily Cal restart petitioning efforts while still getting the president’s office changes to the referendum language. The largest change for which the president’s office asked was to adjust the language of the referendum itself to explicitly state that 33 percent of the fee would go to financial aid, according to Yu. None of the changes influenced the actual fee.

Student Action Senator Tiffany Chia said in an email that she thinks it is important to support the Daily Cal, and Student Action Senator Connor Landgraf said in an email that he is “comfortable with the VOICE initiative.”

The referendum’s placement on the ballot comes after a senate committee tabled a previous iteration of the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative on March 5. That version of the referendum would have asked students for $5 per semester, with the resulting funds supporting the Daily Cal and other student media groups.

The newspaper began gathering signatures for a $2 Daily Cal-only fee after the $5 fee was tabled but held another meeting with members of other student media groups on Sunday to discuss the $5 fee again. Members of CalTV and one member of the Berkeley Political Review attended that meeting.

After concerns were discussed regarding the Daily Cal’s finances and a committee that would oversee revenues generated from the student fee, the $5 fee was dropped. CalTV co-executive director Myles Moscato said he felt it was unfair that funds for the Daily Cal generated by the referendum would not be allocated by an oversight committee.

“An overwhelmingly neutral response from the publications community caused us to remove them (from the referendum),” Yu said. “I feel there were two main publications that were negative, and the rest were neutral.”

Ovadia said an oversight committee would compromise the Daily Cal’s independence because it would be able to guide where funds were sent. He cited the Daily Cal’s original 1971 move to independence from the university after the campus administration decided to fire three editors after they published a controversial editorial that encouraged readers to take back People’s Park.

The current Daily Cal-only referendum does not include an oversight committee, according to Yu.

Chloe Hunt is the lead student government reporter.

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  • Super Happy

    Just give us the money and don’t ask questions.  Compelled fees to support a newspaper without any oversight?  Why is UCOP even allowing a vote?