California student journalists 'proud' of new laws

CALIFORNIA — College newspaper editors say they are impressed with their state for taking college press freedom seriously by crafting laws aimed at stunting censorship and punishing newspaper thieves.

Kyle Smith, editor of the Lariat at Saddleback Community College, said “I’m proud of our state for taking steps so quickly to protect student free press and being on the forefront of this law.”

The censorship bill, AB 2581, prohibits prior restraint and other forms of censorship of student newspapers at public universities. The bill was created in response to the U. S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case of Hosty v. Carter, which said college media can be subject to prior review in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.

The Hosty ruling was shocking, Smith said, making the threat of censorship in California real.

Sylvia Fox, president of the California College Media Association, said she also saw the threat.

“We were afraid the Hosty [ruling] would supercede the rights of college press in California,” said Fox, who testified in favor of the anti-censorship bill. “I was delighted that the bill passed. We weren’t sure if the governor would sign it.”

Fox said she hopes the law reminds smaller schools without a journalism program of the right to free press.

Tom Clanin, adviser of the California State University at Fullerton’s Daily Titan, said the passage of the law eliminates the worry that no one will be looking over the shoulder of the student editors.

Clanin said censorship is not much of a problem with large universities, but a bigger problem at community colleges because administrators there may not fully understand college press freedom.

“It is definitely a breakthrough bill for smaller schools,” Clanin said.

Like many college newspapers across the state, the Daily Titan ran a front-page story on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signing of the censorship bill on Aug. 28.

“The law really puts into granite what the administrator’s limitations are — and what the student press’ rights are,” Smith said.

Smith said that although his school’s board of trustees has been upset with the newspaper for publishing stories critical of the administration, the law will help them understand the rights and responsibilities of student journalists.

Smith said that at community colleges, the threat of an adviser being fired or facing other stern repercussions because of what students publish are real. He said, the Lariat‘s adviser, a part-time instructor, could have “his job in limbo” if the newspaper hits any controversies.

“We live in a nation that prides itself on free speech, but there are still a lot of issues that are ambiguous. Any legislation to clear that up is good,” Smith said.

John Gold, editor of the San Diego State University Daily Aztec, said he did not think the law would affect his paper quite as much, but he is glad that a law is in place to protect California college newspapers.

“Free thinking is encouraged at college campuses,” Gold said. “Censoring that is just ridiculous.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger also signed AB 2612 last week, which makes taking more than 25 copies of a free publication a crime, punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and jail time for repeat offenders.

Smith said the Lariat‘s most common form of censorship involves people stealing their newspaper.