| SPJ v. CMA on prior review
Is prior review really thatbad?
Lance Speere, president of College Media Advisers, said requiringa person not on the student staff of a student newspaper to review the paper beforepublication leads to censorship.
But David Carlson, president of theSociety of Professional Journalists, said if a prior review policy is practicedto produce better journalism, it can provide a good educationalexperience.
“It really depends on the level of prior review andthe spirit in which it is conducted,” Carlson said. “If it’sdone in the right spirit, it’s not that much different from what thestudent would encounter in the real world” with an editor.
CMA,on the other hand, is staunchly opposed to priorreview.
“Obviously our organization has a strong stance againstprior review, even though some believe it’s not as serious as priorrestraint,” Speere said. “One leads to the other. What’s thepoint of prior review if there’s not going to be priorrestraint?”
In the context of student journalism, priorrestraint occurs when a person not on a newspaper staff censors content beforepublication.
Prior review can put an adviser in an awkward positionbetween the student staff and the administration, Speere said. He also said thepractice can take away from the experience of studentjournalism.
“If you have an official set of eyes looking at thecopy before it goes to press, you’re taking away a very important learningopportunity,” Speere said. “One of the things we feel reallystrongly about is that you learn through mistakes.
“[Students]come out of the situation with less of an appreciation for the value of theFirst Amendment.”
Although Carlson said prior review can haveeducational benefits, SPJ Campus Adviser Neil Ralston said prior review isinherently negative and detrimental to the education of studentjournalists.
“A lot of members of the public don’tunderstand that before you can teach responsibility to students, you have togive them the opportunity to succeed or fail,” Ralston said.“[Students under prior review] can’t learn good grammar or spelling,because they’re going to rely on the administrator or adviser to do it forthem. They’ll get a weaker education as a result.”
Speeresaid newspaper advisers should be there for advice only and that students shouldmake the final decisions regarding content.
“Faculty, staff andother non-students who assume advisory roles with student media must remainaware of their obligation to defend and teach without censoring, editing,directing or producing,” according to CMA’s code of ethics.“It should not be the media adviser’s role to modify student writing orbroadcasts, for it robs student journalists of educational opportunity and couldseverely damage their rights to freeexpression.”
“Allowing a university official to reviewthe content of a student newspaper article before it goes to press is nodifferent than a commercial newspaper being required to hand over stories to anaide to the town mayor for approval,” said Mark Goodman, executivedirector of the Student Press Law Center. “It’s a clear conflict ofinterest and at a public school it’s illegal aswell.”
Carlson said he agreed that prior review may open thedoor to censorship, but it is not inevitable.
“Well certainlythere’s a difference between prior review and prior restraint,” hesaid. “As long as it is review and it’s done for educationalpurposes, it is less distasteful.”
Ralston said that one of thedangers of prior review is that it can tip off administrators to stories thestudents are writing, and allow them to hideinformation.
“Prior review, while not illegal, can be just asdangerous [as prior restraint],” Ralston said.
For his part,however, Carlson said SPJ would not prefer either practice at a studentnewspaper.
“SPJ and I are both staunch advocates of freedom ofexpression no matter what its implications,” he said.
LOUISIANA — Administrators at theUniversity of Louisiana at Monroe moved the student newspaper from thecommunication department to the English department and instituted a priorreview policy last month.
And while student editors have said aftersome initial concerns that they are happy with the changes, the head of theuniversity’s communication department said students should be wary ofhaving someone not on staff read their publication before it isprinted.
“The problem with prior review, even when theintentions are good, is that we know clearly from both court cases and fromresearch there is the potential of a silencing effect,” said BetteKauffman, the chair of the communication department. “Students are notgoing to have the same freedom to speak and write.”
HeatherAmison, editor in chief of The Pow Wow, refused to comment forthis article. The new Pow Wow adviser,J. Eric McNeil, a faculty member in the English department, did not returnrepeated calls for comment.
Stephanie Williams, the paper’smanaging editor, said she thinks the new adviser has given good advice andimproved the paper without censoring student content or opinions, according toan article in The New Star, a localpaper.
But Kauffman said journalism professors at the university havelost a good teaching device.
“We are certainlydisappointed,” she said. “We felt that an independent studentnewspaper in the communication department was valuable for the instruction ofour students.”
Kauffman said that the dean of the College ofArts and Sciences, Carlos Fandal, instituted prior review so there would befewer grammatical and spelling mistakes in the student paper.
ButKauffman said she did not feel comfortable with prior review. She said usingprior review to fix grammar is misguided.
“[Prior review]doesn’t give [students] the experience of editing their own work andtaking public responsibility for their errors,” she said. “I thinkit teaches them to accept review and I don’t think it bodes well forjournalism.”
Lance Speere, president of College Media Advisers,said that although student editors at The PowWow have not voiced any concerns yet, it is important that they remainalert to any possibility of censorship.
“I think that thestudents just have to understand what type of power does rest with the FirstAmendment,” Speere said.
“Independent of the educationaland ethical implications of prior review, the courts have consistently declaredit unconstitutional,” said Mark Goodman, executive director of the StudentPress Law Center. “It’s one thing for student editors to request anadviser to look over their story. But when that prior approval is required bythe school, the First Amendment simply doesn’t allow it.
“If editors at The Pow Wow refused to submit their workfor prior review, the school would have no right to punishthem.”
Students at another public institution, Governors StateUniversity in Illinois, sued their school in 2001 after an administrator thereinstituted prior review on the student newspaper. The U.S. Supreme Court deniedan appeal made by the students today. Visit www.splc.org/gsu for more information onHosty.
—by Ricky Ribeiro SPLC staff writer