Journalism group urges colleges to designate student media as public forums

College student journalists need to flex their FirstAmendment muscle. At least that’s what one national journalismorganization is saying, and its members are trying to spread theword.

”I kind of view this as a muscle that needs to beexercised,” said Mead Loop, vice president for campus chapter affairs forthe Society of Professional Journalists. ”The First Amendment gives us alot of rights, and we need to use them.”

Yesterday SPJ issued astatement to colleges and universities urging them to designate their studentpublications as forums that would be free from censorship by administrators. Andto encourage students to take action, Loop said a free press statement printedon wallet-sized cards was sent to all of SPJ’s campuschapters.

The statement reads: ”Student media are designatedpublic forums, and free from censorship and advance approval of content. Becausecontent and funding are unrelated, student media are free to develop editorialpolicies and news coverage with the understanding that students and studentorganizations speak only for themselves. Administrators, faculty, staff or otheragents shall not consider the student media’s content when makingdecisions regarding the media’s funding.”

Loop said hehopes the cards will be used in a number of different ways, including sparkingstudent journalists to write editorials in their student papers and acting as ajumping off point in communications law classes that are discussing the

Hosty v. Carter decision, a caseinvolving censorship of a college newspaper.

The statement wasdeveloped as a result of the Hostydecision out of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case questioned theauthority of administrators at Governors State University to censor a studentnewspaper that had published articles critical of the school. In its June 2005decision, the 7th Circuit said that the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decisionHazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier— a case that allows public school officials to censor high schoolnewspapers — could apply to colleges as well. The U.S. Supreme Courtdeclined to hear the Hosty case inFebruary, letting the 7th Circuit decision stand.

”There’s no doubt we crafted the language in partrelated to the Hosty decision,”

Loop said. ”I think it gives our student chapters a reason and a cause totry to improve and protect journalism.”

Since theHosty decision, the Student Press LawCenter has urged student journalists in 7th Circuit states — Indiana,Illinois and Wisconsin — to ask their administrators to immediately adopta statement that recognizes campus student news organizations as designatedpublic forums. This designation would exempt student media from the potentialability of college officials to censor in light of theHosty decision.

”Allowing college administrators to control thecontent of student newspapers is not much different from allowing the WhiteHouse to control the content of the WashingtonPost,” said David Carlson, president of SPJ, in a pressrelease.

Individuals who wish to obtain cards with the statementprinted on them can contact Loop at 607-274-3047 or mloop@spj.org, according tothe press release.