Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Advancing their oral and communicative skills through accurate reporting at the expense of getting their foot into the industry of news and media on college campuses, student journalists are having a ten-letter word dictate their protection in the House.
Now you’re probably wondering as to why this topic is even being discussed, and quite frankly as am I. Student journalists are expected to inform and even entertain the campus community through accurate and credible information, in efforts to fulfill the unsolicited position as the backbone of a university. Yet their objective as the writer, to chase and report stories, seemingly have been met with the censorship and opposition, until now.
Recently celebrating Student Press Freedom Day on Jan. 29 on behalf of the Student Press Law Center to commemorate the 1988 Supreme Court historic decision of university censorship of student journalists’ case, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.
Unequivocally silencing the works and words of student journalists, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, otherwise posed as acronym FIRE, “The Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier allowed school administrators to censor school-sponsored publications if they had “legitimate pedagogical reasons” for doing so.
And while Hazelwood was decided in the K-12 context, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit applied the same rationale to college campuses, permitting censorship in that context as well.”
Reverting that action, contrary just this past month Virginia House lawmakers decided to take a stance in the right direction by proposing a bill that would extend free speech protections to student journalists.
Under the disguise of the House Bill 36 and Senate Bill 80, these bills were initiated by Democrat Virginia House of Delegate member, Chris Hurst (HB 36) and Danica Roem (SB 80). With a 5-3 vote, FIRE reported, “The bills would ensure that school-sponsored media — defined as “any material that is prepared, substantially written, published, or broadcast by a student journalist at a public middle school, high schools, and universities — do not face school censorship.” In addition, the bills also protect advisers who work with a student journalist.
While the bills are designed to override and essentially reverse the effects of an outdated Supreme Court ruling, this has also created a start of a historic moment as amongst Virginia, 14 other states have enacted bills to protect the free speech of student journalists.
Yet, as this becomes an ongoing topic of conversation for Virginia House lawmakers, this is a pivotal point in history for student journalists where the decision for free speech is up for debate, so are their words.
“Far too many student journalists have been censored by image-conscious school administrators or intimidated to self-censor or not report on ‘controversial’ topics that matter to their peers and communities. It is important that we stand up nationally to say, “No more!,” said Student Press Law Center Executive Director Hadar Harris via SPLC.org.