Student media have tough time obtaining access to government, school records in 2003

Calls from student journalists needing legal help to obtain access to government records and meetings in 2003 jumped over 35 percent from 2002, according to a report released by the Student Press Law Center this month.

A total of 355 high school and college student journalists contacted the Center for help on freedom of information-related matters last year, up from just 262 calls during the previous year. The Center’s finding echoes reports by commercial news media and citizen groups nationwide that, in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, government agencies have tightened control over previously available government information.

“Unfortunately, these numbers suggest that the student media – like all news organizations and the public at large – has been significantly affected by the growing trend toward government secrecy,” said SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman.

“The fact that student journalists are often having to fight to see even the most routine records of public schools and other government agencies means that many young Americans are receiving a troubling message about the importance of public oversight,” said Goodman.

Overall, in 2003, the SPLC staff responded to 2,360 requests from individuals seeking legal help, up over 4 percent from the 2,258 requests received the previous year. In addition to providing legal help, the Center responded to 436 requests from individuals seeking information only or from news media seeking comment on student press issues. It marked the busiest year on record for the Center in the organization’s 30-year history.