Iowa conflict goes down a notch
University and commercial press agree to settle over campus distribution rights
IOWA — One portion of the on-going conflict involving Iowa State University, the Iowa State Daily student newspaper and community newspaper publisher Partnership Press, is on its way to settlement.
Iowa State University and Partnership Press agreed in principle to settle their federal case concerning distribution rights for the commercial publisher’s newspapers on campus, according to Paul Tanaka, Iowa State attorney. A December ruling found that the university was violating Partnership Press’ First Amendment rights by restricting distribution on campus for the commercial publisher as compared to the student newspaper.
Jeff Stein, attorney for the board that publishes the Iowa State Daily, which was not a party to the case, said that he understood the university made a proposal to Partnership Press that they would accept. Terms of the agreement were to be completed by mid-May, according to Stein.
“I have been assured by university attorneys that they will protect the student voice on campus,” he said. “They have done that so far.”
Tanaka said that the student media’s role on campus would be preserved in the settlement.
“We feel we are preserving the special role of student press on campus,” he said. “We wouldn’t do it if it would hurt the Iowa State Daily.”
College Media Advisers President Mark Witherspoon said that he is happy that there is a settlement in this portion of the situation.
“It’s wonderful that they’re settling one part of the case,” he said.
There are two other conflicts. One is a lawsuit filed by Partnership Press to open the advertising records of The Iowa State Daily. The commercial publisher claims that the student newspaper is covered by the state open records law, and a state court agreed in a 1997 ruling. The case is currently on appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.
The other controversy is over unlawful competition. Partnership Press claims that because the Iowa State Daily receives financial support from the school, it is a state agency and should not compete for advertising money with the local newspaper.
College Media Advisers has offered to mediate an open discussion with all three parties in the conflict to try to settle the complex situation, according to Witherspoon.
“I’m trying to get some resolution that everyone could be happy with,” he said, “or at least come away saying, ‘I’m O.K. with that.’”
CMA would organize a meeting with the three groups and include several representatives from each side — the commercial press, the college press and the university — to discuss the matter and find a solution, according to Witherspoon’s March letter that was sent to each group.
Witherspoon said that John Hobson, student chairman of the publications board, has already told him that he is willing to participate. Witherspoon has yet to hear from Iowa State and Partnership Press.
“I wanted to get it done before any bad law that would hurt student publications was passed,” Witherspoon said. “Anything that hurts the student press would hurt the professional press.”
In March, Partnership Press had successfully lobbied for the introduction of a bill to the Iowa state legislature. The bill would amend a portion of the Iowa Code which addresses competition between private and public entities.
The existing law was put in place to protect private business owners from public agencies such as universities taking away their business unless it was for educational purposes, according to Stein.
The bill that was introduced would make it impossible for the universities to support publications that generate more than $250,000 in advertising sales and have any nonstudent employees that make more than $12,000 a year, according to Stein. That change would have put the Iowa State Daily out of business, he said.
The bill never came out of committee. It “died from inaction,” Stein said.
Mike Guidicessi, attorney for Partnership Press, said that the bill cannot be acted on this session, but it could be reintroduced in the next session.
Partnership Press had asked the Iowa Newspaper Association to help lobby in favor of the bill. The INA refused that request in February.
reports, Spring 1998