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Lawmaker derides Virginia Tech students' 'Sex Talk Live' show
State delegate calls for school president to amend contract with private campus media company
October 9, 2003

VIRGINIA ---- When two Virginia Tech students hosted the popular campus talk show Sex Talk Live late last month, they did not realize that their fake orgasm and sex position charade competitions would put them in an awkward position with a state lawmaker.After seeing an article in the university's student newspaper about the show, Robert G. Marshall, R-Manassas, objected to the Sept. 24 show's contests and prizes, which included sex toys for winners. The show was held in front of a live audience of about 500 students and will broadcast exclusively on the campus cable system after it is edited.Sarah Davis, station manager for Virginia Tech Television, said station officials intentionally confined the broadcast of Sex Talk Live to on-campus television because they intended it to be seen exclusively by the college audience.Davis said the show provided an important service for students.''The two hosts answer live calls about an important subject in an educational and entertaining way,'' she said.But in a Sept. 25 letter to Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, Marshall listed seven questions he wanted answered, including, ''Do you think this is an appropriate student activity?'' and ''Please explain to me how ‘Sex Talk Live' is consistent with the Mission Statement of Virginia Tech.''In a second letter dated Oct. 1, Marshall called for the university to amend its contract with the television station, and its parent company, Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech, to allow university officials to control station programming.Though EMCVT is a private company, it receives some funding through student fees as well as free office space from the university in exchange for providing free media services for campus community. In addition to running the VTTV, it publishes the student newspaper and yearbook.Marshall objected in part to the use of public funds to help support the station.He could not immediately be reached for comment.Officials at the station noted that, because Virginia Tech is a public university, students have strong First Amendment protections from censorship by administrators or state officials.In addition, Davis said, the university would have difficulty exerting editorial control over EMCVT because it is not exclusively a student organization.''Because we're a private corporation, they don't have a lot of control,'' over content, Davis said.Despite Marshall's pressure, it appears that VTTV will continue to operate without university oversight.According to David Ostroth, associate vice president for student affairs, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to alter the terms of the school's contract with VTTV or its parent company, without two years advanced warning.The contract ''says explicitly that the university will not interfere with [university] media,'' Ostroth said.''We take Delegate Marshall's concern seriously,'' Ostroth said. ''But we also take the Constitution and the contract seriously.''''Delegate Marshall has called for a review of the contract,'' said Kelly Wolff, general manager for EMCVT. ''According to everything we know, such punitive damage is unconstitutional.''Wolff, a non-student employee of EMCVT, noted that her contract with the station specifies that she is responsible for all functions of the station except content, which is determined by students.Ostroth and Wolff both reiterated the role of VTTV as a co-curricular educational tool. And in contrast to Marshall, ''We don't see it as a matter of allowing,'' Ostroth said. ''We see it, to some degree, as a matter of right.''Jarrett Henshaw, one of the hosts of Sex Talk Live has since been fired from his position at VTTV for falsely identifying himself in order to interview Delegate Marshall, but according to Davis, the station is searching for a replacement host.''We have no intent on canceling the show,'' said Davis. Although Henshaw was upset about his firing, he defended Sex Talk Live and the role it played on campus.''We're just a student media show trying to educate people about sex,'' he said.It was the first time that Sex Talk Live was held in front of a live, campus audience. The show, which airs weekly, regularly features phone-in questions from students.

© 2003 Student Press Law Center

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