By Jessica Lyons
As reporters for student-run newspapers, student journalists take on the responsibility of informing the campus community about what's going, whether it's the results of the latest basketball game, the success of a recent fundraiser or something more controversial like misused funds by the administration. Many student newspapers, under the guidance of an adviser, hold themselves to the same standards as any mainstream daily paper, which means doing a lot of leg work to get both sides of a story.
There have been numerous instances of student newspapers having to deal with censorship issues, some of which have resulted from schools trying to suppress negative articles that could hurt their reputations. According to the Student Press Law Center, forms of censorship could include requiring prior review of content, taking out articles that are deemed to have 'objectionable' content, limiting circulation, confiscating papers or suspending editors. For papers that receive funding from school officials or the student government, censorship could also mean taking away or cutting back on financial support
The issue of censoring student newspapers has made it to the courts on many occasions. A student editor brought a case up against the Governor's State University school administration after a dean told the paper's printer not to actually print issues until a school official had given approval. In the 2005 judgment by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it was found that public school administrators did have control over student newspapers. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Even with such legal precedents, there is still no definitive way for schools to handle the issue.
Public vs. Private Schools
Censorship may be treated differently depending on if the school is private or public. The Student Press Law Center explains that public schools cannot censor their student newspapers because they are viewed as 'acting on behalf' of the government and therefore cannot censor under the First Amendment. However, the same does not necessarily hold true for private schools since they are not funded by the government and are not seen as its representative the same way that public schools are.
The good news is that just because a student attends a private school does not mean that he or she will automatically be censored. Some states, such as California, have laws in place to make sure censorship doesn't happen on either type of campus. Additionally, some private schools have created their own internal policies that ensure students have free speech.
The Ramifications of Censorship
By censoring student newspapers, schools send a message to their students that they don't have First Amendment rights. Additionally, students pay a lot of money to earn their degrees and should be able to know what's going on, even if it doesn't paint the school and its administrators in the best light. School administrators won't win over students, including current, past and present, by trying to hide things.
For the students putting these newspapers together, censorship in some ways robs them of part of their education. Student reporters interested in pursuing journalism professionally use the work on college newspapers to start getting more experience in the field and learn the process of putting stories together. If schools prevent them from doing this through censorship measures, this is hurting their ability to get true journalism experience at the very institutions that are responsible for educating them.
What Students Can Do
Students don't have to just sit back and agree to whatever school officials say or do. If students feel there is a problem they need to address, they can contact the Student Press Law Center for advice. If the problem takes more than getting the answer to a question, students might be able to speak with an attorney. Legal action is an option for students who can't get satisfactory results by speaking with school administrators.
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