In a unanimous vote Wednesday night, the SGA joined a newly formed coalition of students in condemning The Diamondback's advertising department for running a controversial ad last month that several students referred to as "hate speech."
The Student Government Association resolution — which passed 24-0 with three abstentions — called on the department to make a formal apology to the student body for the publication of an advertisement called "You deserve a factual look at … Muslim Arab Anti-Semitism" for the Facts and Logic About the Middle East organization in the newspaper Oct. 19. The resolution also calls for the advertising department to refrain from publishing FLAME ads in the future.
After the ad's publication, outraged students formed the End Hate Speech at UMD coalition, and two members of the group met with two Maryland Media Inc. — the private company that owns The Diamondback — officials and Diamondback editor in chief Lauren Redding last week.
MMI General Manager Michael Fribush offered to provide free advertising space, which MMI has never done before, to print a rebuttal advertisement or for the group to publish a guest column or letter on The Diamondback's opinion page.
But Osama Eshera, who is a member of End Hate Speech at UMD and attended last week's meeting, said the group will decline the offer. While End Hate Speech at UMD appreciated the gesture, the group wants the advertising department to issue a formal apology, to refuse to publish FLAME ads in the future. They group also hopes to foster a conversation about hate speech across the campus.
"This is about getting the campus more involved and getting the message out to students and faculty to understand the issue and having their opinions and stances heard on the issue," said junior bioengineering major Eshera, who is also a Diamondback columnist. "That creates a true discussion of these ideas and not just a statement."
However, Fribush said in an interview yesterday that he will not consider writing a formal apology, noting SGA legislators had not reached out to MMI to hear the company's reasons for publishing the advertisement.
"I'm a little disappointed the SGA voted on this," Fribush said. "They only heard one side. They didn't hear both sides."
Fribush said if FLAME does submit advertisements to the newspaper in the future, the department will evaluate them for publication on a case-by-case basis, just as it does for all ads.
"We have to vet it on a case-by-case basis," Fribush said. "To just say no without looking at it and censor it goes against everything a newspaper is."
Chelsea Madden, MMI's advertising manager, said FLAME has published 25 total advertisements in The Diamondback since September 2008, and they have not sparked controversy until now.
Yet, at Wednesday's meeting, many SGA legislators expressed strong disapproval of the advertisement.
"It is not conducive to constructive conversation; it does not cultivate the campus culture," University Courtyards legislator and bill sponsor Ashley Evangelista said at the meeting. "This is not a matter of the law … this is a matter of integrity. ... And just because this is a small minority group does not mean we should be silent on the matter."
However, several legislators — most of whom ultimately voted in favor of the bill — noted that allowing the ad to run correlates with the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of the press as outlined in the Constitution. Others questioned the sort of precedent this would set for future cases.
"An important question I have is this: how does a company publishing an ad with hate speech differ from a professor saying it or a student saying it on campus?" business legislator Ira Rickman said. "No matter who says it, now the SGA has to take a stance. In the future, this is now the precedent whenever anything happens on campus from here on out."
Ultimately, most legislators said while FLAME has the right to submit its advertisements, they as the student government has the right to condemn them.
"They're free to say whatever they want, and we're free to say that we don't like it," outlying commuter legislator Vasco Mateus said.