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A Kernel of Truth: University of Kentucky Turns Big Brother on Sports Reporters

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Kernel of Truth: University of Kentucky Turns Big Brother on Sports Reporters

Article excerpt


George Orwell s 1949 tome on political repression, "1984," told of Oceania, a fictional society ruled by Big Brother that bugged the phones of its citizens and practiced strict mind control. Orwell would have loved the University of Kentucky, the publicly funded institution that recently banned the

Kentucky Kernel, its independent campus newspaper, from covering its annual invitation-only media day.

The paper's sin? Aaron Smith, managing editor and sports writer, telephoned a couple of basketball players to ask if they had made the team, without first getting the athletic department's permission to make those calls.

"1984" should be a must-read on the Lexington campus as well as in newsrooms across the state. That's because reporters from media organizations --be they students or professionals--are in constant danger of having their access to players and athletic officials cut off if they publish something the athletic department disagrees with or finds offensive.

It's an institution of higher learning where athletic university staffers station themselves next to journalists interviewing basketball players to make sure the hoopsters don't commit a thought crime. It's an academic outpost where Thalethia Routt, an associate legal counsel to the university, criticized Smith in an online post for being a "pretend journalist," because he dared to telephone two players--a violation of the athletic department's media guidelines.

For that Oceania-like crime of behavior, DeWayne Peevy, UK associate athletics director for media relations, or chief thought speaker, kept Smith from attending the media basketball event Sept. 13.

On that day, Peevy allowed Kentucky's sports journalists to actually speak to the basketball players and their coach, John Calipari. Hardly a First Amendment celebration in the Bluegrass State.

The crackdown on the Kentucky Kernel and the reaction by the university athletic department would be YouTube-comical if the university didn't have an obvious ulterior motive. "The real issue isn't about them being concerned about interview requests," Billy Reed, a former sports writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader, told a Kentucky journalism school seminar. "They want to control their product ... because this is a big business."

It's also a scary business that affects the school newspaper's coverage of all Kentucky sports. Last year, the university stopped Kernel staffers from distributing about 2,000 copies of the paper inside UK's Commonwealth Stadium and to tailgaters around the football stadium--something the students had been doing for 10 years. Why? Because the university has an $80 million contract with IMG, a sports marketing firm, granting exclusive media and advertising rights to every UK sport. In non-sports speak, that makes IMG the university's chief propagandist.

First Amendment lawyers, editors, and assorted media publications all have raised their voices to support the Kernel in its latest confrontation with the university. But I could not find any real flashes of outrage from UK faculty--an academic condition that has become an epidemic on college campuses with big-time sports programs. …

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