Student charges Orion with censorship
Palestinian says his columns were rejected because editors didn’t agree with them
When Chico State University student Amro Jayousi thought his free-speech rights were being abused, he took his case to the right place: the Free Speech Area on campus, where he mounted a demonstration.
You may have seen him on television news Dec. 11, standing before a Palestinian flag, his hands bound and his mouth gagged with duct tape, a kaffiyeh draped over his shoulders and flanked by students wearing “Censored by The Orion” T-shirts. The guy knows how to get attention.
Jayousi is throwing around some pretty serious accusations. He charges he was censored by editors at The Orion, the campus newspaper, where he did a brief stint as opinion columnist at the beginning of the fall semester. Getting no resolution from the paper’s management, he chose to resign.
The 19-year-old Palestinian has a bevy of credits to his name, including membership in the Student Democratic Club, the Muslim Student Association, Students for Darfur (STAND), the Union of Palestinian Students, the Palestine Solidarity Community (where he served as president), and the Pan-Arabian Union, for which he was head spokesman. He also was a member of the Chico State Speech and Debate Team for three semesters.
Jayousi lived the first five years of his life in Iraq. His family still lives in Palestine, where he plans to return in 2011 once he’s finished with school.
Jayousi’s problems started in early September, when recreation professor Michael Leitner approached the editors of The Orion about his opinion columns, which focused mostly on Middle Eastern issues. Leitner said they were anti-Semitic.
“A person can write political things, and it can go totally over the heads or under the radar of those not politically involved,” Leitner told the CN&R. Jayousi’s words, which Leitner said as a columnist had credibility, were “threatening to my existence as a Jew.”
“He basically wanted me out [of The Orion],” Jayousi recalled.
According to Leitner, as well as Orion editors Genny McLaren and Megan Wilson, and Orion faculty adviser Dave Waddell, The Orion was in full support of Jayousi and had no intention of removing him from the staff.
But from the day Leitner complained, Jayousi said, “it was clear something had changed.” Wilson originally had approached him to write the column because of his extensive knowledge of the subject and his ability to write, which Wilson said “put most college professors to shame.” He had been told he could write about whatever he wanted, but then the editors began to reject his columns and ask him to diversify his subject matter.
Leitner and Jayousi had had encounters before The Orion columns were published, Leitner said. Jayousi and some of his friends had attended an event on terrorism hosted by Leitner last semester and disrupted it, yelling out during presenter Jim Jacobs’ speech, “I don’t respect you,” Leitner charged.
Jayousi allegedly attended another public talk in which Leitner was present, and again he disrupted the event, aggressively approaching the podium and reading a prepared diatribe.
As the semester progressed, Jayousi continued to write articles that got published. The editors rejected several of his columns, as well as several ideas for columns, he said, even the ones in which he tried to diversify his subject matter, proposing to write on freedom of speech and activism in Chico.
Jayousi called a meeting with McLaren, the paper’s managing editor, and Wilson, editor of the opinion section. He felt he was left with two options: to continue trying to write on allowed topics or to resign.
“If I do the first option, I will really be compromising a lot of my own principles,” Jayousi said. “I would be justifying an illegitimate act of censorship.”
“I don’t think [these charges] are true at all,” McLaren said. The editors rejected Jayousi’s articles because they were becoming repetitive. “[We were] trying to get him to step out of his comfort zone. We were totally on Amro’s side. That’s the point of The Orion, to get voices out.”
“People are constantly trying to influence newspaper content,” Waddell said. “[Leitner] didn’t like Amro’s column before he talked to me, and he didn’t like Amro’s column after he talked to me.”
Leitner believes Jayousi has manufactured the issue. “There really is no story [here],” he said. “The Orion was very supportive of him.”
Waddell agrees: “If he wants to call editing ‘censorship,’ then so be it.”
As far as Leitner is concerned, Jayousi’s motives aren’t entirely pure, either. “He wants media. He wants press.”
If that’s the case, Jayousi has definitely achieved his goal. “Controversy is good,” he said. “It is my life.”