New bill gives ‘freedom of the press’ to college journalists

Mct and Mct

By Matt Krupnick MCT

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill earlier this week that protects college journalists from censorship, giving them the same freedom of speech as high school journalists.

The new law, written by Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, ended speculation that a recent court decision would lead to censorship. A federal court last year ruled that an Illinois university could stop publication of its student newspaper, which ran stories criticizing a dean.

“Administrations have taken the liberty of exercising prior restraint on our students,” Yee said. “You would think that in our institutions, the First Amendment would be hallowed ground.”

The law takes effect Jan. 1. The high school version passed in 1992.

College journalists welcomed the change, saying such freedom is essential for learning purposes.

“We’re doing a good service for readers,” said Jason Shuffler, a 27-year-old reporter for San Francisco State University’s student newspaper, the Golden Gate [X]press. “We have to be free to report what administrators might not want us to report.”

Censorship watchdogs became anxious for further protection after last year’s court ruling, which prompted the lead attorney for the 23-campus California State University system to tell campus presidents to take note.

The “case appears to signal that CSU campuses may have more latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidized student newspapers,” CSU attorney Christine Helwick wrote in a memo.

Helwick declined to comment, but the CSU system released a one-sentence statement: “The CSU supports the students’ freedom of speech and use of university publications for learning purposes.”

Although college administrators often say they are cautious about giving student journalists complete freedom, some said the new law was overdue.

College journalists should have the same freedom as others, said Contra Costa College’s interim vice president, Carol Maga, who noted that the campus newspaper, the Advocate, has not always made life easy for her.

“They chased me around the first couple of months about the conditions of some of the buildings,” Maga said. “It got us moving, so we appreciated it.”