Several bills have been introduced in states across the country to better protect student journalists’ rights. The bills, modeled on the Student Press Law Center’s “New Voices” campaign, are worthy of legislators’ support. As readers might remember, New Voices legislation has been signed into law in several states including Nevada, North Dakota, Maryland, and Vermont.
In Nebraska, for example, the bill declares that “a student journalist is responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, sports, and advertising content of school-sponsored media.” The bill also declares “school-sponsored” media as a public forum. These statutory protections for university student journalists ensure that school-sponsored media, including student newspapers, would remain free from administrative control or prior review. That protection allows students the freedom to explore, write, and investigate without fear of censorship or punishment from administrators.
Similar bills are pending in New Jersey, Missouri, and Washington. (Bills that extend protections only to student journalists in primary or secondary school have been introduced in South Dakota, New York, and Indiana.)
As I wrote when the Nevada bill was signed into law:
The U.S. Supreme Court held in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988) that administrators — at least in the K-12 setting — have the authority to censor school-sponsored student publications if administrators have “legitimate pedagogical reasons” for doing so. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit extended the Hazelwood ruling to college publications (erroneously, FIRE believes) in Hosty v. Carter (2005), which affects the states under its jurisdiction. The New Voices Act legislation prevents the spread of the Hosty decision to other states by statutorily protecting student journalists.
FIRE enthusiastically supports the New Voices legislation in the university context and hopes to see these bills signed into law.