New and pending laws protect rights of students who write

NOTE: This post is for anyone who once lived life as a beat reporter, editor or even beleaguered adviser on a high school or college newsletter – daily or bi-weekly, print or digital.

The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) has just adopted a resolution that supports pending state legislation designed to protect the ability of high school/college journalists to write about issues of public concern without restraint or retribution.

The resolution states unequivocally:

A free and independent student media is an essential ingredient of a civically healthy campus community, conveying the skills, ethics and values that prepare young people for a lifetime of participatory citizenship.

ASNE action responds specifically to Illinois’ enactment of the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act. Illinois is the tenth state to pass laws that support students’ freedom of the press. Legislation is pending in Michigan, New Jersey – and yes, Minnesota.(https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=HF2537&version=0&session_year=2016&session_number=0)

The ASNE action is the tip of a grassroots movement. Other professional associations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Council of Teachers of English and the Journalism Education Association, have passed similar resolutions to support the rights of student journalists.

In fact, the support was coalesced into a national movement known as New Voices (http://newvoicesus.com), a project of the Student Press Law Center (www.splc.org). The mission of New Voices is “to give young people the legally protected right to gather information and share ideas about issues of public concern.”   New Voices “works with advocates in law, education, journalism and civics to make schools and colleges more welcoming places for student voices.”

Responding the support from the journalism professions, Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC, observes that “the consensus of those most knowledgeable about how journalism is practiced and taught is overwhelming: Students can’t learn to be inquisitive, independent-minded journalists – or inquisitive, independent-minded citizens – when schools exercise total control over everything they say and write.”

The history of the Student Press Law is interesting in itself. It actually grew out of the work of journalist Jack Nelson, best known for his coverage of the Watergate mess and the Civil Rights movement. In a revealing book entitled Captive Voices, based on interviews with student journalists and their teachers, Nelson contended that censorship in schools was pervasive; the book was actually commissioned by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Fund. Nelson’s findings influenced national awareness of student journalists’ rights, which led to a partnership between the RFK Memorial, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to create the Student Press Law Center.

Today, the SPLC, headquartered in Washington, DC. provides free legal assistance and training for student journalists and their teachers. More about the SPLC, including a library of free legal research materials, can be found on the SPLC website (http://www.splc.org)

 

 

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