New Voices legislation launched in Indiana

INDIANA — The New Voices campaign is sprinting off the block this year with the first anti-Hazelwood legislation of 2017 being filed in Indiana.

Representative Ed Clere, R-New Albany, introduced House Bill 1130 Tuesday, kicking off the second attempt in Indiana’s history to enact legal protections for high school and college journalists in the Hoosier State.

“I expect there will be a lot of support and I’m also anticipating a certain level of resistance,” Clere told the SPLC, noting it was too early in the process to gauge support for the bill within the general assembly.

That said, Clere and other proponents of the bill are putting together a comprehensive case and drawing on grassroots support.

Diana Hadley serves as the executive director of the High School Press Association, and she says Clere’s involvement was a welcome surprise.

“He volunteered to sponsor this bill,” Hadley said. “We had a grassroots campaign going, but we didn’t have sponsors, yet. We were talking about who the sponsors might be and going over the possibilities and all of a sudden I get a call from Jim Lang at Floyd Central [High School] and he said Ed Clere is willing to sponsor a New Voices bill.”

Hadley was involved in another attempt to pass similar legislation in the late 1990s. She pointed out that the previous bill passed the state House, but failed in the Senate after opposition arose from associations representing Indiana principals, school boards and superintendents.

Clere, she said, understood the need to bring everyone together, and that’s exactly what he’s done.

“We get together with him and he says, ‘Now, I want this to be educational. And my idea is that we choose five high school and five college student journalists to help draft the bill.’”

After an application process, Clere and Hadley enlisted five high school students and five college students from around the state to help research and draft the bill with insight gathered from similar laws in other states.

The group gathered on Dec. 7 to meet with representatives of several professional administrative and teaching associations to discuss the bill and present their case.

The bill, as written, includes protections for high school and college journalists to research and report the news in their schools, as decided by their own editorial staff, without interference by their administrations.

It also provides a safeguard for journalism advisers against administrative retaliation for supporting their students’ right to report freely.

Clere is quick to assure parents and teachers that this law does not establish a carte blanche policy for students to print or broadcast whatever they please. In addition to restrictions on libel and invasion of privacy, the bill specifies that student content cannot “materially and substantially disrupt the operation of the public school.”

“It’s not a blanket license to say whatever you want,” Clere said. “It simply gives student journalists the same right to express themselves that other journalists have and, importantly, it also holds them to the same standards in the same way a working journalist can’t get away with libel or invasion of privacy or any other kind of unlawful act.”

For Clere, the protections offered with the New Voices bill hit close to home.

“It’s an issue I’ve been interested in ever since I was a high school journalist,” Clere said, saying that he started his freshman year in the fall of 1988, immediately after the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision was handed down.

“I became aware of the New Voices movement and contacted a few folks including the journalism teacher at my old high school who is now my 15-year-old daughter’s journalism teacher,” Clere said.

“I’m interested in this for the benefit of all student journalists including my own daughter.”

Hadley, likewise, has longstanding experience with scholastic journalism and the fallout from the Hazelwood decision. She advised the student newspaper at Mooresville High School for 33 years, later working on the yearbook and starting a broadcast news course.

She pointed out that Hazelwood wasn’t, strictly speaking, the death-knell for student journalism. In her experience, supportive school remained supportive, but restrictive schools got worse.

“I think that at schools where there had been some adversity – that administrators took it as the opportunity to clamp down.”

In her own case, the principal at Mooresville maintained an open dialogue with herself and the student journalists.

“He met me at the desk, that morning, afterwards, and he said, ‘Well, when do I show up for paste-up?’” Hadley recalls, referencing the term used in the industry for putting the paper together for print.

“I wasn’t expecting that, and I said ‘Well, Tuesday night, are you going to be there?’ And he just grinned and said, ‘Nah, you be sure to tell your kids it’s business as usual at Mooresville High School.’”

Hadley was fortunate, and her principal went on to win “administrator of the year” awards from the National High School Press Association. But the New Voices campaign seeks to guarantee that the quality of scholastic journalism and student expression isn’t susceptible to the vagaries of administrative turnover.

More importantly, Clere points out, the bill fosters responsibility. Young adults in Indiana can vote in their primaries at 17, provided they’ll turn 18 before the general election.

“There are many students who can vote but they could be censored for writing or producing other content why they voted the way they did.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Education.

Ten states now have statutes protecting the ability of student journalists at public institutions to choose the content of student media, with the addition of Illinois and Maryland in 2016. The campaign to enact curative legislation nationwide is known as New Voices after the John Wall New Voices Act that became law in North Dakota in 2015.

SPLC Publications Fellow Roxann Elliott can be reached by email or (202) 833-4614.

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