Red Flag: My principal demands to read everything before we publish

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 principal demands to read everything we write before it’s published.”

This is called prior review, which is a form of administrative control roundly condemned by every national journalism education group in the country as the wrong way to teach journalism. If you attend an American public college or university, courts have said that insisting on administrative prior approval violates the First Amendment and is illegal. No similar legal authority exists to protect high school journalists from the practice, though there are important First Amendment limitations on how school officials do this at public high schools. 

Newsmakers you cover, like a principal, probably have no journalism training or experience, unlike a journalism adviser. Because school officials hold positions of power and are likely the subject of your coverage, requiring them to review news about them before publication violates every tenet of sound journalism.

Prior review can lead students to self-censor — deciding not to pursue a story or angle for fear of getting in trouble. Moreover, school officials who screen student work — effectively giving the work an official “stamp of approval” — may be creating financial liability for their school that they might otherwise avoid.

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