Viewpoint: Kentucky’s restriction on reporter violates basic rights

By Tyler Alley
Sports Editor

The University of Kentucky sparked a big controversy Tuesday over issues involving the First Amendment.

Kentucky’s associate athletics director for media relations DeWayne Peevy banned a student reporter from an event Tuesday in which select media were allowed to interview players of the basketball team.

The reason, according to Peevy, is because the reporter violated a policy that requires media to arrange player interview with media relations rather than going straight to the players.

As the sports editor, I can attest that Baylor has the exact same policy. If I want to arrange an interview with any player, I have to call a member of media relations, or as I call them SID (sports information director), in order to do so.

I understand why the policy is in place and where Peevy may be coming from.

The problem is, that’s not exactly what happened. Aaron Smith, the managing editor and basketball reporter at the Kentucky’s school newspaper the Kernel, saw a tweet from a Kentucky basketball player stating that the team received two walk-ons.

Kentucky had not yet announced this news, so Smith decided to check the information for himself before reporting this story.

He found the two players’ numbers on the directory and called to confirm if they were indeed walk-ons. Both players told him yes. He then asked if they would be willing to talk to him. Both players declined.

Smith heard a story, wanted to get it out as fast as possible, but also wanted to check his facts. That’s his job.

Also, since he did not know they were student athletes until they told him, he did not violate any policy by calling them.

Peevy’s actions in banning Smith from the media event were uncalled for, and frankly, prevented Smith from doing his job.

Peevy said Smith was excluded from this event only and that he will have the usual access from now on. He just wanted to “teach him a lesson without costing him anything.”

Teach him a lesson? For what, doing his job? How do we know you will not do this again in the future the next time you feel a reporter steps beyond his or her bounds?

I can speak from experience on this matter. Just last week, I asked a player a question I was not allowed to ask, and an SID standing nearby said, “no, you can not ask that question.”

Did media relations punish me in any way? No, the following Monday I was in the weekly press conference for football, asking questions to Art Briles and Robert Griffin III and doing my job.

Why was I not treated like Aaron Smith? Because Baylor’s SID’s are professionals and don’t act like bullies to the media, even to student media (I can honestly say they have always been great to me, and whenever I ask for an interview, they either give it to me or tell me the player is not available.)

What Peevy did was bullying and censorship. Kentucky is a public university funded by taxpayer money and the paper is independent published. Kentucky has no right to censor their paper in any way, and preventing Smith from getting his interviews is censorship. Period.

I also read a comment under the Kernel’s story about the situation by Thalethia Routt, a counsel general associate in the Office of Legal Counsel at UK.

She said the paper got what it deserved. She also said, “This is what happens when pretend journalist get greedy,” and “there is no First Amendment violation. The Constitution demands free speech, not free access.”

First of all, for a member of the “Office of Legal Counsel,” you seem to have not read the entire First Amendment, which mentions freedom of speech as well as freedom of the press.

Also, what exactly do you mean by “pretend journalists,” Ms. Routt? Are you accusing me of being a “greedy pretend journalist” for wanting to ask players questions?

I do all the same things that every other sports reporter has to do covering college football. The only difference is I go to class as well.

Your statement is not only stupid but also offensive. I don’t know how you got your job, but I personally don’t think you should have it if you run your mouth off like this, and at the very least you should be reprimanded.

Aaron Smith is a real journalist who just happens to work for a university newspaper. Not only that, he is a good journalist. He should be praised; instead, he was punished. This is unacceptable.

The Associated Press Managing Editors and Associated Press Sports Editors both called Kentucky’s actions “reprehensible” and have defended Smith. Allow me to add myself to that camp.