Originally published in The Statesman (Feb. 18, 2011)

USG takes the remote: SBU-TV to be restructured

The Undergraduate Student Government voted Thursday to effectively shut down SBU-TV, the campus’s first and only closed-circuit television station since 1992.

The Reformation of Stony Brook Television Act was brought to the Senate floor last minute Thursday night and approved by a vote of 12-2 with 5 abstentions. USG defended its move by stating SBU-TV is an outdated organization.

This means a change for SBU-TV, one that will effectively eliminate the television station’s closed-circuit aspect that limits accessibility of the station to on -campus television, remove its current staff and potentially replace them with staff chosen by USG–a tactic that USG says will improve the organization.

“I personally believe that the real form of communication is online. There’s just no way to get around that,” said Moiz Khan, the director of USG event programming. “I know a countless amount of people who have TVs in their rooms but don’t even have the cable set up because if they wanted to they could watch it on Hulu or download it.”

Unhappy members of SBU-TV believe that USG is taking the wrong approach.

“Going digital can be beneficial,” said Melissa Chan, a senior and journalism major and now a former SBU-TV staff member.  “But in this act, [David] is trying to instill these new positions, which means that our positions will be gone.”

At Wednesday night’s budget committee meeting, the Communications Act was tabled. But USG collected 162 signatures in a petition to bring the Reformation of Stony Brook Television Act to the floor on Thursday night. An act was not shown to members of SBU-TV or posted on USG’s website before going to the floor.

SBU-TV also collected 280 signatures Thursday to go against what USG wanted to do with SBU-TV.

“Is it fiscally responsible to continue to operate the closed television station on this campus at the cost to the students of $35,000?” Vice President of Communications David Mazza asked at Thursday’s Senate meeting. “At some point, USG has to do this.”

However, the issue is whether SBU-TV is classified as a club or as an agency of USG. According to USG’s constitution, SBU-TV is a quasi-independent agency. Under USG rules, quasi-independent agencies report to the president, who is responsible for what they do.

USG’s argument is that SBU-TV was never an actual club, but an agency of USG. Even though SBU-TV has it’s own constitution and has operated like a club for most of its existence.

“SBU-TV is no different than [the student activities board] or USG Audio Visual (AV) or USG events management or anything of that sort,” Khan said. “It would be unfair to say it wasn’t given a long leash. But just because it was doesn’t mean it can’t be brought in again.”

According to Brandon Baiden, the now-former production manager and news director of SBU-TV, President Matt Graham and Khan came to their office after midnight on Thursday morning and asked for their keys, stating that they were concerned about SBU-TV members stealing equipment.

Multiple USG street team members, many of whom are normally assigned to event promotion for a salary of $10 per hour, were stationed outside SBU-TV’s two offices in the media wing, which is in the basement of the Student Union. According to Mazza, they were there to deter former SBU-TV staff against stealing equipment.

Though USG tried to take office keys away from SBU-TV members, they could not bar them from entering the station’s office–only the facilities management staff could do so. SBU-TV staff was allowed into the offices by the Union’s facilities management, which has a contract with SBU-TV and other student media organizations, including The Statesman.

According to Baiden, USG put in a request Thursday night to change the locks on SBU-TV’s two offices; facilities declined because the tenant agreement was with SBU-TV.

Baiden said in an email to USG members that when he and Chan told Graham they would not hand in their keys, Graham replied,  ”I’m president and you guys are an agent of USG, I have the power to do this.”

Baiden said to Graham that this was like a dictatorship, to which Graham responded, “yes it is.”

In the e-mail, Baiden goes on to say USG should have worked with SBU-TV instead of reorganizing the club.

As of Friday afternoon, SBU-TV’s locks were changed by the Union’s facilities.

“The ultimate goal was the assets. I was in a tough situation and I didn’t feel comfortable that disgruntled students had access to this,” Graham said.    “Dictator is a harsh word and I probably shouldn’t have used that but [USG’s constitution] clearly states that I’m the president and I am responsible for running the agency.”

According to Graham, he was not questioning the student’s moral compass but he felt he was responsible for this.

SBU-TV members did not see it the same way.

“When I found out, I was extremely hurt. It’s very deceitful how we are supposed to be a quasi-agency and they are supposed to include us,” Chan said. “But clearly by changing our locks, that’s the first step in excluding us.”

What was not originally addressed in the act is where the remainder of SBU-TV’s budget goes.  It was agreed at the meeting that the money would be frozen for the time being.

Discussions to address the future of SBU-TV are expected to take place this week. At Thursday’s Senate meeting, a line was added into the reformation to ensure current SBU-TV members would have some say as to what the future of the organization will be.

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