Viewpoint: What we don’t know and don’t publicize


    By Seth Blaylock

    During the past week and a half, we have received several letters and telephone calls asking why The Daily Universe chose not to cover a student”s suspension because of alleged homosexual conduct.

    Because of the outpouring of curiosity, I think we owe our readers an explanation.

    BYU suspended the student in question on March 13. The news broke two weeks later on March 29 when the student went to the local media. He did not contact NewsNet.

    I was still half asleep when I heard the news that morning on a local news radio station. Later at work, I saw The Salt Lake Tribune had also run the story.

    At 1:30 p.m., I attended our front-page meeting, where the editors decide which stories will run in the next morning”s paper.

    Campus Editor Tiffany Lewis asked the group whether to cover the developing story, and we discussed it.

    In the end, all the student editors involved decided against running the story. There was no censorship involved, except self-censorship. Neither the BYU administration nor faculty advisers at NewsNet influenced our decision.

    We simply agreed that a story about the student”s suspension was not “news.”

    Student disciplinary actions are private matters, and it is almost impossible for us to get the whole story — the objective story.

    Students are suspended or expelled from BYU every year. While it is true that few students ever have problems with the Honor Code Office, suspension is not a rare occurrence.

    Normally, NewsNet does not publicize the suspension or expulsion of any student because it is not a public event. Disciplinary actions between students and officials are private matters. BYU follows a similar rule, one the university is legally bound to.

    The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act forbids universities from giving out private information.

    “We cannot give out personal information about a student. We can”t announce when a student has been suspended,” said Carri Jenkins, assistant to the president, University Communications.

    Exceptions apply only for prominent students, such as student athletes. These students are considered public figures, and do not have an expectation of privacy.

    We report on their status at the university because it affects many people.

    But even then, university officials cannot elaborate on the reasons for suspension unless the student has made the matter public by his or her own actions.

    What all this means is that no newspaper or television station can get the whole story.

    In this latest case, the student has told his side of the story, and BYU can only comment on matters already made public.

    The local media latched onto the story because of one word: homosexuality. An interesting subject, especially at BYU, but not necessarily newsworthy, especially when the media can only tell a one-sided story.

    Which is why we decided to not publicize the matter further.

    Here at NewsNet, all we know is that we do not know the whole story. We cannot say whether the student was engaged in conduct against the Honor Code.

    This should be a private matter left to the student and BYU officials. It is not appropriate for a news story.

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