Though the term ‘freedom of speech’ is one often tossed around on a college campus, it is not to be taken lightly in the case of college newspapers.
In March, the California State Assembly passed a bill that granted further protection of the freedom of speech to California college newspapers. The bill specifically targeted the Regents of the University of California and the Trustees of the California State University.
It stated that these institutions and their administrators could not punish a student, or make a rule punishing a student, ‘on the basis of conduct that is speech, or other communication’.
Though the bill is a nice reminder that a college publication should not have its content regulated by the university, it is actually little more than a further specification of the existing California Education Code.
The subject of censorship on campus has been particularly heated since the 2005 court case, Hosty v. Carter, in which students from Governors State University in Illinois sued their dean for censoring the content of their paper before it could be published. The practice had begun in response to articles and letters to the editor that were critical of the university. The subsequent ruling can be used by universities nationwide to censor their student press without repercussions.
The New University, which is not funded by the UC Irvine administration, and which is also not currently subject to a media review board like many other college newspapers, is an independent newspaper which generates both its own revenues and its own editorial content.
According to both the California Education Code, and the newly approved bill, censorship of public university newspapers, and free speech in general, is unlawful whether or not groups are funded by their institutions.
This is a principle which should be understood and upheld by all public educational institutions since it is in the best interest of the community to allow space for opinion, expression and criticism. Censorship of a newspaper that is meant to represent the views of a campus is counterproductive and contradictory.
The exception to this is the correction or censorship of content that is obscene, libelous or slanderous, which are general rules applicable to any journalistic publication.
As previously stated, the New U. generates its own income through advertisement sales. In addition, ad sales and editorial content are kept separate, meaning that advertisers have a right to the space they pay for, no more, no less and do not have a say in the actual content of the paper.
The opinion section is reserved for just that: the opinion of students on campus. It does not express the views of the New U. staff, but rather the views of those students who feel the need to write. An effort is made to have a variety of student opinions heard, whether or not the New U. staff personally agree with them.
The weekly editorial is the one aspect of the opinion section that comes directly from the editorial staff, as is indicated by the staff box displayed on the page. This is the one instance in the paper that the staff expresses an opinion that has been voted and agreed on by their majority.
Though other sections in the paper, such as News and Features, strive to remain unbiased and neutral in their reporting, it is entirely appropriate that the editorial express a point of view on the decided topic.
These sections, particularly News, attempt to provide information in a straightforward manner that is relevant to the campus and that the general population of students may not be informed about. The section cannot be expected to disregard truthful information simply because it might offend, or present a group in a negative light.
In short, the goal of the New U., like most college newspapers, is to provide a resource and an outlet for the campus community.
It is not a vehicle for editorial promotion of the administration or any advertiser. And as far as the administration is concerned, this is the law.
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