Proposed campus publications fee referendum shifts to Daily Cal-only

Emily Smith/Senior Staff

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A perceived lack of financial transparency from The Daily Californian has led to criticism from other campus media groups as the newspaper works to place a referendum on the spring 2012 ASUC general election ballot to help close its estimated $200,000 annual budget deficit.

Under the original V.O.I.C.E. Initiative proposed by the Daily Cal, a $5 semesterly student fee would have been split among the Daily Cal, ASUC-sponsored student media groups and Graduate Assembly-sponsored student media groups. However, after campus publications raised concerns over the initiative — one of the largest being the Daily Cal’s lack of budget transparency — the proposal changed to a $2 per semester student fee that would only fund the Daily Cal and a mandatory return to financial aid.

Over the past week, the Daily Cal has been working on gathering 1,000 petition signatures from students in order to place the $2 fee on the ballot, and has already gathered more than that number.

On Sunday, members of campus media groups met to discuss the $5 referendum for the final time after a senate committee delayed the bill last Monday in order to gather more input. Meeting attendees reached the conclusion that the Daily Cal would pursue the $2 student fee without the other publications.

This decision was reached because of a lack of support for the $5 referendum from other publications, who cited concerns that the Daily Cal did not fully disclose the details of the organization’s overall fiscal budget or how the fee’s revenue would be spent.

Co-executive director of CalTV Myles Moscato said he was never presented a full report of the Daily Cal’s yearly operational expenses despite asking for it multiple times.

“The transparency aspect is a big aspect in making this fair for everyone,” he said.

Furthermore, CalTV Director of Business, Advertising and Marketing Elizabeth Kopaskie said that Tomer Ovadia, the Daily Cal’s editor in chief and president, was “throwing out vague, arbitrary numbers.”

Ovadia said the newspaper’s annual budget totals about $850,000. Although the Daily Cal’s fiscal budget reports are available on the newspaper’s website, Ovadia said the budget breakdown will be posted in a more reader-friendly way by the end of the week.

“We gave them rough numbers,” Ovadia said. “We could have done it faster.”

ASUC-sponsored groups go through a spring budgeting process that details all of their finances from the academic year and allocates funding for the next year. The groups’ financial information is published publicly through a website called Cal Link, according to Student Action Senator Justin Sayarath.

As an independent news organization, the Daily Cal does not participate in the budgeting process that ASUC-sponsored groups go through. Instead, it files public record forms disclosing revenue from advertisements and donations, Ovadia said.

He added that the newspaper is a rapidly changing organization with evolving costs. Without fee revenue, the newspaper would face severe cuts, which could include eliminating more print editions, according to Ovadia.

But members of other student media groups said they took issue with a lack of information about the final destination of fee revenues.

Kopaskie said she was worried that the Daily Cal would have a surplus of income in five years as a result of the fee revenue, especially if the newspaper decides to move away from print in the future.

Additionally, Mihir Deo, managing editor of the Berkeley Political Review, said his greatest concern was that the Daily Cal hopes to be funded by students and at the same time “do whatever they (want)” with the fee revenue.

Yet Ovadia said the money would go toward filling the Daily Cal’s deficit, which has run into hundreds of thousands of dollars as the newspaper faces a loss of advertising revenues and structural changes in the journalism industry.

Chloe Hunt is the lead student government reporter.