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FIRE launches Student Press Freedom Initiative to fight censorship in student media

Student Press Freedom Initiative

A forthcoming FIRE study found that more than 60% of college newspapers experience at least one instance of administrative censorship each year.

Let that sink in.

This tells us two things: First, censorship is a widespread problem in student media. Second, the current resources available to student journalists and the administrators they deal with just aren’t enough

That’s why, today, FIRE is launching the Student Press Freedom InitiativeSPFI, or “spiffy,” for short.

SPFI works to supplement the resources that already exist for student journalists, their advisers, and administrators so we can fight back against censorship in student media.

Just some of the things SPFI offers include:

  • A 24/7 legal hotline: 717-734-SPFI.
  • Can I Publish This? — an online guide to media law.
  • Virtual training events for student journalists.
  • Free in-person workshops.
  • Student media advocacy and litigation, in coordination with FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program and Litigation Project.

Read on to learn more about SPFI’s work, including several upcoming events.

SPFI’s 24/7 hotline for censorship and media law questions

The first order of business for SPFI is its new 24/7 hotline: 717-734-SPFI (7734).

Too many times, we’ve heard from student journalists and their advisers that they had an urgent legal question, but it occurred in the middle of the night — often during production night — so they didn’t know who to turn to.

The new SPFI Hotline answers calls anytime — day or night, workday or holiday. Urgent questions will be connected to a FIRE staffer, who will help student journalists and their advisers work through legal questions of all sorts, whether related to censorship or a media law issue like copyright or defamation law. While the hotline doesn’t establish an attorney-client relationship, and FIRE staffers can’t give legal advice on the hotline, we are able to provide students with legal information and other resources, and, in circumstances that call for it, connect a caller with an attorney. We’re here to help.

Can I Publish This Logo

Can I Publish This?, FIRE’s guide to media and First Amendment law for student journalists, will receive regular updates with new modules that cover all things law for college reporters.

Today, a new module on prior review and prior restraint is live. Students can use this to think through the pressures they’re experiencing and whether it’s time to call for help using SPFI’s hotline.

Virtual trainings and webinars for college journalists

On February 22 at 4 p.m. EST, during Student Press Freedom Week, FIRE will host “Overcoming Self-Censorship in Student Media: A Discussion,” in collaboration with the Student Press Law Center.  The session will offer college journalists a roundtable opportunity to discuss their experiences with self-censorship. Students can register for this discussion here.

Censorship is a widespread problem in student media.

On Student Press Freedom Day, February 24 at 4 p.m. EST, FIRE will offer a virtual training called “Can I Publish This?,” which will help student reporters keep themselves out of legal trouble by providing tools they can use to review content before publication. Students and advisers can register for this free training here.

These two events are just the first of a series of quarterly virtual training sessions to help journalists at colleges and universities learn more about their rights and how to optimally exercise them. 

Future topics will include other common issues encountered by student journalists, like using FOIA for reporting, media law 101, covering protests, ethics versus law, and copyright.

The Free Press Workshop: An upcoming conference on student media

Just announced today, FIRE will host a free daylong workshop on April 9 in Washington, D.C. to empower student journalists to use their free press rights.

At the conference, reporters will learn from experts in the field about the importance of student journalism and how to protect a free and open press. Topics will include FOIA, how to interview to get answers to your questions, and basic media law. Participants will also work closely with SPFI and other FIRE staff to develop strategies to speak, write, and cover the news freely — backed by a robust understanding of the First Amendment and its protections. 

FIRE aims to make its events accessible to all, so in addition to offering this workshop at no cost to participants, FIRE offers a $350 travel stipend to all attendees. Additionally, SPFI has extra stipend money available for those with extraordinary travel costs.

Join us at this exciting conference by applying here

Advocacy and litigation: Defending the student press

To make sure that when attacks on the collegiate press happens, someone is there to defend it, FIRE will continue to engage in advocacy efforts and litigation.

In coordination with FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, SPFI will work to defend the rights of college newspapers, radio stations, magazines, and other publications when they face legal threats or censorship. In these matters, SPFI will work with IRDP to target media campaigns, correspond with administrators, and engage in other creative advocacy efforts to fight for the rights of student journalists.

As seen in the Tarleton State University lawsuit filed today, as well as in our victory earlier this week in defense of student newspaper editor Jared Nally, FIRE is dedicated to defending the rights of the student press through litigation as well. 

These services and resources are just the beginning of what SPFI will offer in its mission to eradicate censorship of college media. 

Students — especially student journalists — interested in getting involved with SPFI should join FIRE’s Student Network, and tick the “student journalism” box at the end of the form!

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