Future of Journalism?: UMd. Paper Provides Link to Video of Porn Screening Event

Screencap of PDF of April 7, 2009 DiamondbackThe University of Maryland -- my alma mater, for full disclosure -- has made national headlines this week with a pirate-themed porn flick originally scheduled for a full-length screening last Saturday at the campus theater. Under pressure from state legislators, campus officials backed down, yet a student group stepped in the gap, pledging to screen the film in a lecture hall yesterday evening.

Only 30 minutes of the feature-length "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge" were screened last night by a group of students running for election in the school's student government, but it was coupled with a panel discussion on freedom of speech, featuring an ACLU representative and some campus college professors.

Covering the story, Tirza Austin of the student newspaper The Diamondback noted that even in the "fraction of the film" screened, "the segment was still explicit and included two different sets of threesomes - one with 'Devil Stick Willy' and two blondes in corsets."

But that wasn't enough for the Diamondback's editors, who included a link to video of the panel discussion AND film screening.

"To view footage of the news conference and film screening, visit www.diamondbackonline.com," reads a teaser in the paper's print edition. The digital edition contains a link placed right above the lead paragraph that reads "Click here for video coverage of the event."

By contrast, the Diamondback was skittish last month about including photographs of "offensive" posters displayed during Palestinian Solidarity Week that were critical of terrorist violence in the Palestinian territories (emphasis mine):

Palestinian students and supporters were confronted with malevolent opposition Tuesday in the form of posters bearing vivid anti-Palestine propaganda that students said made them feel threatened, though it did not stop Palestinian Solidarity Week from continuing last night.

University officials and University Police are conducting ongoing investigations into the incident, though they do not know who is responsible for making the posters. The event prompted a campuswide e-mail from university President Dan Mote yesterday in which he encouraged an "open dialogue" that promotes tolerance.

One such flier depicted a woman, wearing a traditional Muslim burqa and holding an AK-47 in one hand and a bomb-toting baby in the other. "What did she teach her child today?" was written above the picture.

This poster and others like it were found after Tuesday's "What would MLK Say About Gaza?" event, which was hosted by several student organizations.

"We were expecting some disagreement, but we never expected Islamophobic messages," said senior government and politics and Spanish major Sana Javed, who is also a member of the Muslim Students' Association. "We don't know where it's coming from, so we can't really point any fingers. It could get worse. I'm really appalled."

From the excerpt you can see loaded language that colors the article. The reporters themselves were insisting the posters were "malevolent... propaganda," but no photographs of the offending posters were included.

Curious as to why the student paper didn't include photographs of said posters, I e-mailed Adele Hampton, one of three reporters covering the March 5 story.  Hampton replied on March 12 to this writer that "The Diamondback did receive copies of the posters, but because of their violent and strongly offensive nature, we decided not to run them in print or online."

So why the double standard? Critics may say the porn screening is an issue of censorship, of stifling free speech, and that covering the screening with multimedia is an appropriate response.

Yet the Palestinian poster saga also involved the specter of censorship, with University of Maryland President Dan Mote decrying the posters and the campus police having investigated the matter as a potential hate crime. Campus police decided no crime was committed, but did report the matter as a "hate incident" to the FBI.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters