Sunday, April 30, 2017

Student Press Rights in Arizona

After performing a little research, I was surprised about how many states do not have some sort of legislation protecting student media.
I was further shocked to learn that I live in one of them.
Maybe it's because it hasn't been much of a problem here. Maybe it's because no one has bothered to do anything about censorship and prior review. I believe it's the latter because, during the 2017 Legislative session in Phoenix, a former student who said she was censored in high school many years ago is finally getting a forum - and legislators seem to be going for it.
That's not to say some legislators still have their doubts - albeit dubious suspicions.
The following piece came through my email that my newspaper uses. The reporter, Howard Fischer, of Capitol Media Services, provides legislative coverage for all state newspapers who subscribe to his service.
It's a valuable service since many of us are small newspapers and don't have the staff to send to Phoenix every day to cover the Legislature. For us, Phoenix is a three-hour, one-way trip from the White Mountains to the Valley of the Sun.
Here is Fisher's story from late last week:
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A bid to guarantee First Amendment rights to students journalists cleared a critical hurdle Thursday despite claims by some lawmakers that students aren't responsible enough to handle them.
But a critical final vote remains.
SB 1384 would spell out in Arizona law that student journalists have freedom of speech and the press in school-sponsored media even if the publication is supported by the public school, community college or university, and even if the paper is part of a class.
There would be some curbs against libel, unwarranted invasion of privacy, violations of law or creating "imminent danger'' of inciting students to break statutes or rules. And the legislation even permits officials at public schools -- but not colleges or universities -- to block distribution if any of those limits are violated.
Even with that, however, some lawmakers argued against the legislation.
"It is the responsibility of us, as capable adults, to have some say over what students can say and at what level they can criticize governments, schools, principals absolutely free of any of the good sense that should accompany those kinds,'' said Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale.
He lashed out at movements -- mainly on college campuses and none here in Arizona -- to block some conservatives from speaking.
"At the high school level they are not capable of absolutism, absolute total free speech, without adult supervision,'' he said. And Lawrence said even that may not be enough.
"The adult supervision thus far has been, unfortunately, opposed to conservative thought,'' he said. "At the high school level, at the college level, individuals with conservative thoughts are kept from speaking.''
All that, Lawrence argued, works against the kind of freedom for student journalists that SB 1384 would allow.
Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, called it "a very bad bill.''
"Let's remember that student publications are taxpayer supported,'' he said, particularly at the high school level. "The school authorities need to have some control over the content of what goes into a student newspaper.''
And Stringer said the protections could extend to "student journalists'' as young as 13.
But Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, had a different take.
"It's a funny inconvenience about the First Amendment,'' he said.
"In addition to being sacrosanct in our Constitution, when it comes to teaching students, it's an incredible teaching tool,'' Clark continued. "And I don't believe you can fully teach students who are trying to learn how to be responsible journalists unless you respect the First Amendment.''
The legislation was crafted by Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, who told of being censored herself in the 1990s as a high school journalist.
Her measure is designed to get around a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision which concluded that the normal rights of journalists do not extend to students.
"We hold that educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns,'' wrote Justice Byron White for the court. SB 1384 would establish that, at least in Arizona, administrators do not have the same level of control.
Thursday's preliminary approval came on a voice vote. It still needs a final roll call vote before going back to the Senate, which had approved it previously, to review changes made in the House.
Many of the legislators' arguments are borne out of fear. Fear is caused by lack of knowledge. My view is they shouldn't be discussing things of which they know little of and fear. That leads to misguided legislation and errant decisions.
In a report last week that basically stated the legislation had all but died, many GOP legislators argued that "students are not mature enough" to be a journalist. One legislator, who is a self-proclaimed artist, said, "Just because someone uses finger paints doesn't mean they can call themselves an artist." He further explained that he has seen animals at the zoo trounce across paper with finger paints ... a sort of animal art, if you will. "I supposed we should call them artists, as well?" he sarcastically asked.
Another legislator compared becoming a bona fide journalist to earning one's stripes as a welder -- you're not really a welder until you have that certificate in hand that says so.
But how did that welder learn his/her craft? Was it under the cloud of censorship or prior review? He's comparing apples to oranges, so to speak.
I found it ironic that a Republican legislator crafted the bill and was opposed by her fellow Republicans and is being backed by Democrats.
Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, sells Arizona, a large Republican state, and its residents a bit short with his statements about adult supervision - specifically, teachers' ability to teach journalism and its tenants of truth, fairness, objectivity, do no harm, etc.
Not all schools are filled with Democrats, just like all schools are not filled with Republicans. Schools have both political leanings.
Regardless of one's political leanings, censorship protection extends to all journalists, from scholastic to the real world. Period.
Funny how that First Amendment thing works, isn't it?

No comments:

Post a Comment