State Assembly Signs Bill to Protect College Newspapers

California became the first state to provide explicit protections for the free speech rights of student journalists on August 28 when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed State Assembly Bill 2581, proposed by Assemblyman Leland Yee of San Francisco.
‘College journalists deserve the same protections as any other journalist,’ Yee said. ‘Having true freedom of the press is essential on college campuses and it is a fundamental part of a young journalist’s training for the real world. Allowing a school administration to censor is contrary to the democratic process and the ability of a student newspaper to serve as the watchdog and bring sunshine to the actions of school administrators.’
The bill passed the state Senate by a 31-2 vote and was approved by the California Assembly in May. It was drafted in response to the seventh U.S. Circuit Court’s decision in the 2005 case Hosty v. Carter, in which two editors and a reporter from Governor’s State University in Illinois published articles that criticized their school’s administration in their campus paper, ‘The Innovator.’ Soon afterward, the dean of student affairs demanded that the publication provide the administration with articles for approval before they were published.
The District Court did rule that the First Amendment rights of ‘The Innovator’ were violated, but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision.
Although the ruling may only be applicable to Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, it set off alarms for student journalists across the country.
The newly signed bill will prevent any university officials at UC, CSU or community colleges from taking disciplinary action against students for ‘speech or other communication.’
‘Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of our democracy,’ said Schwarzenegger. ‘Students working on college newspapers deserve the same rights afforded to every other student journalist.’
On a local level, UC Irvine has not had any recent problems with censorship of student publications.
‘Everyone voices their opinions and is really responsible, so we never really have any problems,’ said UCI Alternative Media Student Director Poonam Kaushal.
Jim Ewert, Legal Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association released a statement saying that his group ‘will continue to push for the Supreme Court to validate the rights of college newspapers,’ but that ‘in California through AB 2581, we are taking the proactive steps to make sure [that] censorship does not occur at our colleges and universities.’