Writing in the Tampa Bay Times, Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte takes on Florida A&M University’s shocking decision to disband The Famuan, a student newspaper that has sharply criticized the university in recent years, and then reconstitute it without its previous slate of editors.
In January, the dean of FAMU’s school of journalism and communications suddenly and without explanation placed the newspaper on a three-week “hiatus” and removed all of its editors, forcing them to reapply for their positions.
The editors gamely responded by creating their own online startup to meet the campus’ need for news, much to the college’s displeasure. Upon reapplying to the Famuan, none of the incumbents was rehired.
Initial news reports linked the university’s decision to a libel suit filed by a former FAMU band member, who claims the newspaper misidentified him as one of the perpetrators in the brutal November 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. But that explanation never made sense. None of the editors selected to take over the Famuan was involved with that December 2011 story. The government cannot restrain a speaker from speaking based on the speculative fear of the future libel he might commit.
From the standpoint of the law, only one fact matters: A newspaper was prevented from publishing by order of the government. That fact alone should send a shiver up the spine of anyone who cares about government accountability.
FIRE strongly agrees with LoMonte’s assessment. Depressingly, he points out that FAMU isn’t the only school interfering with the student press following critical articles:
Punishing journalists for pursuing the truth is, sadly, not an isolated occurrence at FAMU. In recent years, journalism advisers from Wyoming’s Northwest College to Maryland’s Morgan State University to the University of Texas-Tyler have been fired to punish their students for uncomfortably inquisitive journalism.