Journalism group urges colleges to designate student media as public forums

College student journalists need to flex their First Amendment muscle. At least that’s what one national journalism organization is saying, and its members are trying to spread the word.

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

Yesterday SPJ issued a statement to colleges and universities urging them to designate their student publications as forums that would be free from censorship by administrators. And to encourage students to take action, Loop said a free press statement printed on wallet-sized cards was sent to all of SPJ’s campus chapters.

The statement reads: ”Student media are designated public forums, and free from censorship and advance approval of content. Because content and funding are unrelated, student media are free to develop editorial policies and news coverage with the understanding that students and student organizations speak only for themselves. Administrators, faculty, staff or other agents shall not consider the student media’s content when makingdecisions regarding the media’s funding.”

Loop said he hopes the cards will be used in a number of different ways, including sparking student journalists to write editorials in their student papers and acting as a jumping off point in communications law classes that are discussing the Hosty v. Carter decision, a case involving censorship of a college newspaper.

The statement was developed as a result of the Hosty decision out of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case questioned the authority of administrators at Governors State University to censor a student newspaper that had published articles critical of the school. In its June 2005decision, the 7th Circuit said that the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision Hazelwood 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 Court declined 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 the Hosty decision, the Student Press Law Center has urged student journalists in 7th Circuit states — Indiana,Illinois and Wisconsin — to ask their administrators to immediately adopt a statement that recognizes campus student news organizations as designated public 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 the content of student newspapers is not much different from allowing the WhiteHouse to control the content of the Washington Post,” said David Carlson, president of SPJ, in a press release.

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