At Grambling, Censorship of Student Paper After Publication of Controversial Pictures

By on October 2, 2007

Yesterday, Grambling State University (GSU) administrators began an investigation of The Gramblinite, the school’s student newspaper, after the paper published photos of young schoolchildren with a simulated noose around their necks. The children were being taught about racism and lynching in the wake of the publicity surrounding the “Jena Six” incident and the subsequent protests.
 
Specifically, the paper posted several photos of the children with the noose to its website last week. After receiving a phone call from one of the paper’s advisers informing newspaper staff of the outraged reaction of some community and faculty members to the pictures, Editor-in-Chief De’Eric M. Henry and news editor Darryl D. Smith removed three of the pictures. Despite the paper’s voluntary removal of three of the more “graphic” pictures, Grambling President Horace Judson ordered his staff to remove all the photos from the article. In a statement from The Gramblinite, Henry describes the removal:
The decision to remove the three (3) photos did not come from GSU President Horace Judson. It was an editorial decision. However, the decision to remove all photos and the story (Students at GSU’s Alma J. Brown sound off on Jena 6 protest) came from the office of the president and no student editors were present in the office at the time (Friday, Sept. 28).
 
One (1) Gramblinite adviser was ordered to remove everything pertaining to the Alma J. Brown Jena Six march by the president’s office. Student editors found out early Monday morning that everything regarding the Alma J. Brown demonstration had been removed from the site. Henry ordered that everything be re-uploaded to the Web site (thegramblinite.com) immediately with the exception of the three (3) photos.
 
“The Gramblinite only did what our motto stands for: ‘We don’t make the news; we report it,’” said Henry. “We do not approve of censorship or prior review, and we stand by our editorial decision to inform the students of Grambling State University of news events that effect them on campus, in the community and everywhere.”
As Henry makes clear, the photos unilaterally removed by administrators have since been restored to The Gramblinite’s website. However, this restoration in no way absolves President Judson and Grambling State administrators of the clear act of censorship they committed by removing the pictures in the first place. As public university administrators, Grambling State staff have no legal authority to censor The Gramblinite or require Gramblinite editors to obtain permission prior to publishing articles and photographs. Unfortunately, as the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) reported earlier this year, Grambling State administrators have an embarrassing history of attempting to censor The Gramblinite—just last semester, after all, the administration first shut down the paper, then tried to impose a system of prior restraint, then gave up altogether and reinstated it. Now, unfortunately, it seems that GSU is back to its old tricks.
 
Luckily, however, it seems that The Gramblinite staff is up to the challenge of an administration hellbent on censorship: the SPLC’s write-up of this latest incident quotes Henry confidently proclaiming that “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
 
We at FIRE will be watching President Judson’s response closely.

Schools: Grambling State University