What exactly is censorship?

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Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Legal Question of the Week.”

Q: What exactly is censorship?

A: Anytime someone who works for the school prevents or attempts to prevent you from publishing content in your student publication, you’re dealing with censorship. On the college level, any restrictions on your publication’s coverage or operations by anyone who works for the school or is acting on behalf of the school (like student government officials) is censorship.

Censorship comes in many shapes. There is obvious censorship, which may come in the form of a directive not to publish certain photographs or not to write/publish certain stories because some school official determines they are controversial. If any school official confiscates an entire issue of a student publication, or blocks access to your student publication website, that is obviously censorship.

But censorship can also be more subtle. It can come in the form of budget cuts — including those cuts mandated by student government officials — or disciplinary action against a student journalist for something you’ve written. Censorship can also come in the form of punishing your student media adviser or refusing to provide you with a means to distribute your publication. In these instances, if you’re able to show that the actions taken were motivated by the content you’ve been publishing, the law may provide some relief.

Contact the Student Press Law Center’s hotline and speak to an attorney if you feel that you’ve been censored. 

Legal questions should be directed toward SPLC’s legal hotline. Legal Questions of the Week are selected based on trends in the legal hotline. The legal hotline is confidential and no identifying information will be used in the Legal Question of the Week segment.