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House Bill 5550 would prevent schools from retaliating against student journalists for reporting controversial topics.
The bill is a “commonsense attempt to restore some reasonable boundaries to the oversight of journalism in colleges and schools,” wrote NEFAC in a July 17 letter.
The letter was also sent on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, the Providence Student Union, the Rhode Island Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Journalism Education Association and the American Society of News Editors.
The groups explained:
“Student journalism is the gateway to informed and participatory citizenship. Through journalism, students engage with contemporary political and social issues in a supervised and accountable discussion space, learning to have the civil, fact-based conversations that our current national dialogue so often lacks.”
In a 2016 study, 38 percent of student journalists reported having been told that certain topics were off limits. Forty-seven percent of students reported avoiding topics for fear of adverse reactions from school officials.
This bill aims to prevent such censorship in student journalism. It would reintroduce protections that existed prior to the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), which allowed schools to edit or suppress content so long as such efforts are “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”
To address possible concerns among school administrators, the legislation includes safeguards against the publication of material that is libelous, an invasion of privacy, violative of the law, or that incites a disruption or violation of school policy.
NEFAC supported similar legislation in Vermont earlier this year and recently celebrated the law’s passing. With the addition of Vermont and Nevada this year, 12 states now have similar statutes on the books protecting student journalists.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.