Wisconsin Republicans vote to muzzle journalism center

By David Ferguson
Thursday, June 6, 2013 11:06 EDT
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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Image via AFP.
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A group of Republican lawmakers voted Wednesday to prohibit University of Wisconsin professors from working with a renowned nonprofit journalism center and to force the organization out of the two offices it occupies on the UW campus. According to Inside Higher Ed, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 to introduce a motion to the state house evicting the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from its offices and barring it from working with UW staff.

Greg Downey, director of the School of Journalism at UW-Madison told Inside Higher Ed that the legislation a “direct assault” on academic freedom.

The Center for Investigative Journalism was founded in 2009 and is funded by private sources, so Republicans are incapable of legislating it out of existence. They can, however, deprive it of its current use of University of Wisconsin facilities, the two offices that it occupies under a “Facilities Use Agreement” with the university, under which the Center provides the university with paid internships for students, classroom collaborations, guest lectures and other educational services.

Downey said that while the center is not part of the university, the two institutions rely on each other. He told Inside Higher Ed, “They’re a resource for us to rely upon, and we’re an academic resource for them.”

When asked why the Center might be targeted by Republicans, Downey told Inside Higher Ed that there is “no context or explanation,” whatsoever. He speculated that perhaps the lawmakers think the Center is biased, but only because one of the charities funding the group is loosely associated with billionaire financier and perennial right-wing bogeyman George Soros.

The Center’s Executive Director Andy Hall said in an email to media watchdog Jim Romenesko that he was completely “blindsided” by the measure, which Republicans are attempting to bundle into a new budget bill. For the legislation to take effect, the budget bill must be passed by both the state Assembly and Senate.

“The Center’s award-winning journalism is making Wisconsin a better place by shining a light on key state issues to strengthen our democracy while training the next generation of investigative journalists,” wrote Hall to Romenesko.

He also noted that the very committee that voted in the legislation relied on information obtained by the Center last year for a study about the reliability of GPS systems in tracking criminal offenders.

Downey told Inside Higher Ed that the center plans to mobilize its staff, students and reporters in an effort to have the measure removed from the state budget. Failing that, there is also a slim chance that Gov. Scott Walker could use a limited veto to remove the language before he signs the budget bill into law.

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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