Red Flag: Our school cut our budget because they didn’t like our coverage

Red Flag

Censorship isn’t always cut and dry. That’s why, for the next few weeks, the Student Press Law Center is highlighting some common red flags — so you can keep an eye out for censorship.

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Are you dealing with these red flags? Have you been overtly censored? SPLC is here to help. Contact our legal hotline for assistance.

“My school made a big cut to the student media budget after administrators voiced strong criticism about a story we ran.”

Budget changes, restrictions or cuts come in many forms, including cuts to the overall student media budget, limiting orders for newsroom equipment, letting newsroom software licenses expire, canceling a planned trip to a journalism convention or changing how student media student media outlets collect or allocate funds. These actions may, or may not, be considered censorship. The key question is what motivated the cuts.

Courts have made clear for decades that public school officials cannot use their “power of the purse” as an indirect censorship weapon. So if a school official cuts your budget because they didn’t like the content you produced, that is censorship. If you attend a public school and you can prove such motivations, the budget cuts may very well violate the First Amendment and be illegal. 

However, if you can’t prove that the cuts were related to your content, you may be out of luck. For example, if the cut was part of an across-the-board budget cut to all student groups, it’s probably not censorship.

If your student newsroom is facing budget cuts, loss of ad revenue or other financial pressures, we’ve compiled a variety of resources to help you navigate these challenges. If you’re experiencing censorship, or have a student media law question, head to SPLC’s legal hotline for support.

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