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Advisers get tips on protecting college press liberty

By Beth Chesterman
First Amendment Center Online intern

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Keeping up with current First Amendment issues is essential for those advising college media — especially in light of recent court decisions.

The Supreme Court’s refusal earlier this year not to consider a lower court’s ruling in the case of Hosty v. Carter could have a major effect on college media, Student Press Law Center Executive Director Mark Goodman told 16 participants at the 2006 College Media Advisers First Amendment Institute.

“I believe [the decision] opens the door to an incredible amount of censorship in college publications,” Goodman said.

College press advisers from across the country gathered to listen to Goodman and other presenters at the annual conference co-sponsored by the College Media Advisers and the First Amendment Center, which hosted the event June 6-8.

Goodman told the advisers that the Supreme Court’s decision not to consider Hosty meant the June 2005 ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands. In Hosty, the 7th Circuit held that the Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision, which dealt with high school newspapers, also applied to subsidized student publications at public colleges and universities.

In Hazelwood, the Court ruled that school administrators may censor student publications only if the publication is not designated as a “public forum” where students have the authority to make content decisions. Because Hosty expands Hazelwood to public colleges and universities, Goodman said, the decision could give administrators an opportunity to censor student publications in the 7th Circuit’s jurisdiction, which includes Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Goodman urged college media advisers from those states to get a written policy signed by their school’s administration that designates student news organizations as “public forums” and declares that students have the authority to make content decisions without receiving advance approval.

A written policy “is the strongest legal protection,” Goodman said. “Now is the time for administrators to be embarrassed by their lack of commitment to student press freedom.”

Although Hosty does not affect other states, Goodman suggested that college media advisers from all over the country should ask their school administrations to sign a statement affirming the editorial independence of their student media.

Goodman said getting a policy implemented on campus could also help teach students about free expression. Focusing on college press freedom helps students “intellectually think through the First Amendment and why it is their right,” he said.

In addition to Goodman’s presentation, the conference featured discussion topics ranging from the historical background of the First Amendment to how increasing newsroom diversity can strengthen First Amendment expression on campuses.

Robbie Morganfield, executive director of the Freedom Forum’s Diversity Institute, told the advisers that college media was not the diverse melting pot it should be. A journalist’s background contributes to how he or she frames an image or tells a story, he said, and that in college media the lack of diversity in the newsroom often leads to the same images and stories being repeated.

“We miss the opportunities that universal stories present,” Morganfield said. “We need to start getting younger people thinking beyond their own experiences.”

Morganfield suggested that one way of increasing the diversity in student media would be to include business-management training in the curriculum. Such training could lead to students' gaining better people skills, he said, which in turn would lead to a higher awareness of the need for diversity and improve the quality of newspapers.

“We should help younger people understand the role the media plays in the process of affecting and changing the world,” Morganfield said.

Conference participants also exchanged ideas on how to promote the First Amendment on their campuses while also getting students involved in the process.

“Universities ought to be a place where the freest thinking goes on in society,” First Amendment Center Executive Director Gene Policinski told the advisers. “Our goal is for you to effectively advocate for the First Amendment on your campus.”

In addition, the First Amendment Institute gave each adviser a toolkit of suggestions and tips on how to implement a First Amendment event at their college or university.

“I hope you will take what you learned here and insert yourselves on the issues on your campus,” Policinski said. “It is an opportunity college media advisers are able to fill.”

Beth Chesterman is a third-year law student at the University of Iowa College of Law in Iowa City.


College media advisers take crash course in First Amendment

By Chris Hamby Instructors gather in Nashville, Tenn., to learn from experts, share concerns. 06.21.05

High court won't hear campus newspaper appeal
Without comment, justices decline to take Hosty v. Carter, in which 7th Circuit held that public college could regulate campus newspaper's contents. 02.21.06

Calif. bill would protect state college press
Measure offered in response to 7th Circuit student-press ruling in Hosty giving college administrators leeway to censor campus media. 05.12.06

Calif. Senate votes to protect rights of college journalists
If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs bill, state would be first to prohibit university administrators from censoring student newspapers. 08.11.06

Calif. expands freedoms for college press
By Melanie Bengtson New law will give student publications at public universities same free-press rights that professional media enjoy. 09.22.06

Wash. lawmakers consider bolstering student-press rights
'The right of free press is more important than the fear of inappropriate content,' says measure's sponsor. 01.22.07

College media advisers focus on teaching First Amendment
By Courtney Holliday Awareness of the five freedoms is first step, advisers told at First Amendment Center institute. 06.20.07

New Ill. law boosts college press freedoms
By Lydia Hailman King Statute comes in response to 7th Circuit's Hosty ruling, which gave university officials leeway to censor campus media. 09.11.07

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