Two recent incidents that impeded student journalists’ work at Los Angeles City College have raised concerns among press freedom advocates, including the Student Press Law Center.
In the first incident, a faculty member prohibited a photojournalist at the Collegian, the college’s student newspaper, from covering a campus music event honoring the college’s outgoing president on May 2. Just days later, on May 19, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies –– who patrol the college’s campus –– confronted a Black student photojournalist taking photos in common areas in the campus music building.
The Student Press Law Center and our partners are concerned about this pattern of impeding student journalists from covering their community, and we urge the college administration to uphold and respect student journalists’ rights.
Below is a letter sent on May 30 to Los Angeles City College President Mary Gallagher, Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez and the LACCD Board of Trustees. The letter, organized by Santa Monica College journalism professor Sharyn Obsatz, was signed by SPLC and a coalition of 24 other journalism organizations, press advocates and media law experts who object to the treatment of the student journalists and urge officials to correct the situation.
Dear President Gallagher, Chancellor Rodriguez and the LACCD Board of Trustees,
As a coalition of journalism organizations, press advocates and media law experts, we are concerned that the First Amendment rights of Los Angeles Collegian student journalists have NOT been respected at Los Angeles City College.
We are aware of multiple incidents of student press censorship at Los Angeles City College, including:
- On May 2, prohibiting a student photojournalist from covering a campus music event honoring the college’s outgoing president;
- On May 19, sending armed sheriff deputies to confront a Black student photojournalist taking photos in common areas in the campus music building;
- In 2021, barring student journalists from covering campus soccer teams or setting foot on the public athletic field;
- In 2015, kicking a student photojournalist out of the music building from a book event when an author visited campus.
The college administration needs to be more proactive in educating its leadership, department chairs, faculty and staff about student journalists’ rights to cover the news on campus, including accessing areas and events open to students, other campus members and/or the public.
State and federal courts have repeatedly affirmed that student journalists are journalists, with all of the press freedoms and legal protections that are so essential in our democracy. These student journalists serve valuable functions on campus, documenting campus life, holding college leadership accountable and amplifying the voices and perspectives of students. Colleges must treat student journalists with respect as they conduct their reporting and develop their career skills.
The LA City College censorship has been covered by the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Collegian:
“It’s past time for the college administration to correct this situation. Send out a college-wide legal update on public access, or bring in a public access attorney to teach the faculty and staff at the next inservice,” said Patricia Stark, a retired journalism professor at Santa Barbara City College. “They will learn that this type of discrimination against journalism students would not be allowed against any other group of students engaged in credit- or extra-curricular school-sanctioned activities.”
If you need further information about press freedom on college campuses, feel free to contact the experts who have signed on to this letter in support of the Los Angeles Collegian student journalists. Thank you for your speedy action on this important issue.
- Sharyn Obsatz, Santa Monica College journalism, Online News Association Los Angeles
- Patricia Stark, past president of the Journalism Association of Community Colleges and the Santa Barbara Community College Academic Senate
- Student Press Law Center
- California News Publishers Association
- Journalism Association of Community Colleges
- Dan Shelley, President & CEO, The Radio Television Digital News Association
- Los Angeles Press Club
- National Association of Black Journalists of Los Angeles
- Society of Professional Journalists Los Angeles
- Southern California Journalism Education Association
- First Amendment Coalition
- Matt Pearce, President, Media Guild of the West, The NewsGuild-CWA Local 39213
- Marie De Jesus, President, National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)
- Robert J. Lopez, Board Member, CCNMA Latino Journalists of California
- Reed Saxon, President, Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles, retired AP staff photographer
- Nicole Vargas, President, Journalism Association of Community Colleges and San Diego City College journalism professor
- Rich Cameron, retired journalism instructor and past president of the Journalism Association of Community Colleges
- Jessica Langlois, SoCal Captain of Journalism and Women Symposium, Fullerton College journalism professor and faculty senator
- Eleni Economides Gastis, Laney College journalism department chair, UC Berkeley Local News Fellowship Advisory Board
- Jessica Fuller, Mt. San Antonio College journalism professor
- Jill Connelly, Pierce College media arts department chair
- Anne Belden, Santa Rosa Junior College journalism faculty
- Jen Vernon, Sierra College communication studies and journalism professor
- Melissa Korber, Las Positas College journalism and media studies faculty
- Matt Schoenmann, Riverside City College Viewpoints co-adviser