High school censorship increases, 1998 SPLC legal requests indicate

VIRGINIA – Censorship calls to the Student Press Law Centerfrom public high school journalists rose for the fourth straight year.According to the center, 321 high school student journalists or their adviserscontacted it in 1997 for legal help concerning a censorship matter. Thatnumber tops the previous high of 293 recorded during 1997.

Overall, in 1998 the SPLC staff responded to 1,597 requests from studentjournalists and their advisers seeking legal help, up only slightly fromthe 1,588 calls received the previous year. In addition, the center respondedto 518 requests from individuals seeking information only or from the mediaseeking comment on student press issues.

For the second year, the SPLC received more legal questions (719) frompublic high school students than any other group. Questions about censorshiptopped the list of high school concerns (45 percent), followed by questionsabout libel/privacy law (23 percent) and copyright law (16 percent).

The number of requests for legal help received from public and privatecollege student media remained about the same. (791 in 1998 compared to795 in 1997). For the first time, questions regarding public access torecords and meetings (31 percent) topped the number of questions regardingcensorship (27 percent).

Legal assistance ranged from providing information over the telephoneto drafting opinion letters to making referrals to local attorneys whoare members of the Student Press Law Center’s pro bono Attorney ReferralNetwork.

Calls to the Student Press Law Center came from all 50 states, the Districtof Columbia and eight foreign countries. Callers from California (185 calls),New York (175), Texas (129), Illinois (88), Florida (83), Ohio and Pennsylvania(80 each), Virginia (71), Michigan (70) and Massachusetts (60) topped thelist.

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the only nationallegal assistance agency and information clearinghouse devoted exclusivelyto protecting and educating the student press about its freedom of expressionand freedom of information rights. The SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.All legal services are provided to the student media free of charge.