In nearly every dystopian film or novel, the theme of restricted expression is present. Whether it’s Orwell’s “1984” or Collins’ “The Hunger Games”, a society that has fallen apart no longer allows citizens to freely express themselves. The result is a mixture of fear, anxiety and anger that permeates the public conscience and eventually leads to pandemonium.
We feel lucky to be far removed from those bleak worlds. Unfortunately, we are much closer than we might think, especially as student journalists. In a 1988 court case known as Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, The Supreme Court ruled that school districts and administrators can censor student content if they deem it inappropriate. At the college level, The Supreme Court doled out the same ruling in Hosty v. Carter, which gave college administrators the ability to censor college newspapers.
These rulings aren’t just restricting our First Amendment freedoms; they’re all but snuffing them out. Given the current climate of journalism, student journalists not only have to deal with repeated attacks on our profession, but also our ability to report with the ever-constant worry of censorship.
This is something that the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) has recognized, and they are here to help. According to the Center’s “About Us” page, SPLC “works at the intersection of law, journalism and education to promote, support and defend the rights of student journalists and their advisers at the high school and college levels.” To bring awareness to student press freedoms, SPLC has declared 2019 “The Year of the Student Journalist” and launched Student Press Freedom Day yesterday.
When it comes to the impact of student journalists, SPLC Executive Director Hadar Harris explained how vital student journalists are not only to their schools and campuses, but to the larger community as well.
“Student journalists play a vital role in the life of their community – not only their school community, but the civic life of the community at large,” Harris said. “As the number of professional journalists shrink, the number of student journalists stepping in to cover town hall meetings, county government, and even state houses, is growing. Yet in most states, student journalists have lesser First Amendment protections as they are subject to prior review, prior restraint and even overt cases of censorship.”
The First Amendment includes some of the greatest rights we have as Americans, and it is up to us to make sure everyone enjoys it. Currently, LB 206 is going through Nebraska’s legislature, and, if passed, student journalists at the high school and college levels will have the freedom to choose their content without fear of censorship or retaliation. This legislation has the power to give our First Amendment rights back.
Now more than ever, we urge you to support student press freedoms. We are fighting a fight that many do not know about, but with growing numbers and your helping hand, we can change that.