Members of the Daily Bruin and the undergraduate student government election board debated at a Monday hearing about whether the board has authority over non-paid media elections coverage.
Earlier this month, the Undergraduate Students Association Council Election Board told this year’s USAC presidential candidates that they would be subject to sanctions if they appeared on Daily Bruin’s radio show, “Long Story Short.” The segment couldn’t be aired as planned because the candidates opted out of appearing on the show after learning they could be sanctioned.
About 20 individuals, including USAC members and Daily Bruin staff, attended the hearing. Former Election Board Chairperson Anthony Padilla, who was one of the witnesses at the hearing, did not participate in the event because of academic commitments, said former Election Board External Relations Chair Gabrielle Scheder-Bieschin.
The USAC Judicial Board hearing came in response to a Daily Bruin petition claiming that members of the Election Board breached the Election Code by telling candidates they could be sanctioned for going on the radio show.
Padilla told the candidates that they would be subject to sanctions because he thought the radio show would consist of a debate, which the Election Board has authority over, according to an email from Padilla.
The Election Code states that for a group to host a debate between USAC candidates, the debate must be open to all candidates and an Election Board representative must be present.
Former General Representative Sunny Singh and USAC President-elect Devin Murphy testified at the hearing that they would have attended the segment had Padilla given them permission to.
During the radio episode, a Daily Bruin staffer was set to interview the three presidential candidates about their platforms in separate segments, said Christyana Cabal, a Daily Bruin radio editor and third-year ethnomusicology student, during the hearing.
Eitan Arom, the Daily Bruin Opinion editor said Padilla engaged in censorship by leading the candidates to believe they would be subject to sanctions and discouraging them from appearing on the show. He said he thinks the board did not have the authority to characterize the show as a debate because it would not have involved any on-air interaction between the candidates.
“Without our independence there’s no reason for us to be here,” said Arom, a fourth-year mathematics/economics and communications studies student. “As soon as another individual or organization can make an editorial decision on our behalf … we are by definition unable to complete our mandate as the campus’ independent news organization.”
In response, Scheder-Bieschin said the Daily Bruin staff failed to communicate in a timely manner that the segment would involve separate interviews. She said the board is tasked with maintaining a safe and fair election environment for candidates, which only would have been ensured by Election Board oversight during the recording.
“This was an isolated incident of miscommunication between Christyana and Padilla, not censorship,” Scheder-Bieschin said.
She said the Election Board could not give direct answers to the candidates’ hypothetical questions about going on the show, and that all candidates are subject to sanctions for any actions they take in the election if formal complaints are filed against them.
Scheder-Bieschin added that the Election Board was concerned the segment might not follow Election Code guidelines because it was limited only to the presidential candidates and would not be representative of the four slates and 30 candidates participating in the USAC elections.
Participants also discussed the definition of campaigning and whether the radio show would have constituted campaigning, which the Election Board has the authority to regulate.
The Election Code states that campaigning includes any promotion or criticism of candidates running for USAC elections, among other definitions.
When called as a witness, former Election Board Publicity Chair Kimberly Paredes said anything that happens outside Election Board-planned events is subject to sanctions, as long as the complaint brought forth by an individual is valid.
Paredes said it is a candidate’s intent of promotion, not the substance or form of that promotion, that is evaluated by the board for campaign violations.
Arom said he thinks the Election Board does not have the authority to regulate the Daily Bruin’s content, regardless of whether media coverage is considered campaigning.
“Just as UCLA’s student government and student body cannot function without an unencumbered and independent court of appeals, nor can it function without an independent and unencumbered press,” Arom said in his closing statement.
After the plaintiff and defendant finished presenting their cases, the justices of the Judicial Board further questioned them for clarification about the extent of the Election Board’s role in regulating campaign violations.
Justice JD Zelman said he thinks the Election Board’s involvement in campus media should be “reactionary.” He said the board should only address Election Code violations after they have happened, rather than taking action to prevent them.
“It’s up to media to call who they want to call. I understand you want everything fair and balanced, but you can’t get a Democrat to go on FOX news,” Zelman said.
He added that he thinks it was up to the candidates to interpret Padilla’s emails and that the Election Board should not be held responsible for how they responded.
The Judicial Board will announce its decision within two weeks of the hearing.