INDIANA—A bill protecting the free expression rights of student journalists is awaiting action in a Senate committee, fortified by new co-sponsorship, after overwhelmingly passing the Indiana House.
On Feb. 21, the Indiana House of Representatives voted 88-4 to pass House Bill 1130, their state’s version of New Voices press freedom legislation. The vote came just days after the bill passed unanimously in the House Education Committee on Feb. 16.
A similar bill passed in the House in 1991, but later stalled in the Senate, according to Diana Hadley, director of the Indiana High School Press Association. In the meantime, parties like the IHSPA that were interested in promoting free speech among students founded an annual First Amendment symposium at the the statehouse. This year’s event is taking place March 14, just as the bill moves to the Senate Education and Career Development Committee on March 15.
“Some of us are meeting with the chairman of the Senate Education Committee and our new sponsors for the Senate side Monday,” Hadley said, “and then we have a First Amendment symposium scheduled, quite by accident, the day before the hearing. It’s a wonderful combination.”
Hadley is also optimistic about the bill this time around because of the unique involvement of students in both drafting and advocating the legislation, an idea she credits to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany).
Clere himself was a student journalist in high school and has strong familial connections to the field.
“One of the things that makes this personally significant for me is that in 1988, the year Hazelwood was decided, I started high school,” Clere said. “I was a freshman in the fall of 1988 and an aspiring student journalist and I went on to be on my high school newspaper and that was under the shadow of Hazelwood. It was new law when I was starting out as a journalist and I went on to work as a professional journalist for years – of course I’m not a journalist now, but I still have a heart for journalism and passion for the first amendment.”
Clere’s daughter, Hannah, is now a sophomore at his former high school where she serves as assistant news editor on the same school paper. His wife, Amy, is also a former journalist and her father was a career journalist.
Hadley and Clere, along with the help of Adam Maksl of the Indiana Collegiate Press Association and Steve Key of the Hoosier State Press Association, brought a team of student journalists to the statehouse to give input on the bill’s drafting and later testify before the House Education Committee. Sarah Loesch from the University of Southern Indiana and Selena Qian from Carmel High School were two of these students.
Qian described the delegation’s first meeting at the statehouse in December.
“We looked at the preliminary draft of the bill, we met the sponsors, and we also met with a lot of the interested parties so we met with representatives from the colleges, the public universities, representatives from the teachers association, the principals and school boards association too,” Qian said. “Then we looked at the preliminary draft and gave any suggestions we might have.”
Loesch spoke about the importance of allowing student journalists to behave as professionals, citing her school paper’s coverage of national issues during election season when candidates came to visit their area.
“I truly feel that right now we’re in a climate where student journalism and professional journalism, the lines blur about who is supposed to cover what,” Loesch said. “Sometimes for a college student, their college paper is what they’re seeing even more than their local paper, and the same for high school. It’s something that you’re getting in your day-to-day activities as opposed to something that you have to look up or find, then that’s probably where you’re going to get most of your information from. Allowing us to talk about the same issues as professional news organizations talk about without the halt of censorship upon them is really important.”
Qian echoed a similar sentiment, speaking about her experience with a free press model at her high school.
“They know that with that freedom of press, we’re going to do more with it and we’ll be responsible and hold ourselves accountable for our work,” Qian said. “If our school did not have freedom of the press, I probably wouldn’t have gone into journalism because working for a long time on something that’s possibly not even going to be published, I feel like that would make it not worth it.”
SPLC staff writer Molly Cooke can be reached by email or (202) 785-5451
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