Law shields Oregon students from administrative censorship


Oregon college and high school journalists will be protected from administrative censorship under a bill that Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed on Friday.

The law is the country's first in more than a decade to protect high school journalists, and the first ever to cover both high school and college journalists under one statute.

Warren Watson, director of J-Ideas, a First Amendment institute at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., called it "a landmark for student journalism."

Only six other states protect high school journalists.

In 2005 a federal appeals court ruled in an Illinois case that college administrators could censor a student newspaper that was not a designated public forum for student expression.

In that case a dean at Governors State University in University Park, Ill. had barred the student paper for stories critical of the administration.

The ruling only applies to three midwestern states but school administrators elsewhere have cited it in controlling college and high school student publications.

California started the trend last year, passing a law protecting college students from censorship. A similar proposal in Washington died in the legislature this year.

Michigan lawmakers are considering similar legislation.

Student press groups in Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Indiana and Louisiana are pursuing similar laws.

Rep. Larry Galizio, D-Tigard, introduced Oregon's bill. Galizio, who also teaches college journalism, said he read about Washington's attempt and modeled Oregon's bill after it.

"It was amazing to me how quickly word of the bill spread to journalism students and teachers," Galizio said.

Journalism and education associations across the state backed the bill, said Frank Ragulsky, executive director of the Northwest Scholastic Press Association and student media director at Oregon State University.

Lauren Dillard, editor of Oregon State University's Daily Barometer, told lawmakers that students can't learn how to hold governments accountable if they can't question their own governing body.

"It's difficult to serve as that fourth estate if you don't have independence from your organization," Dillard said.

J-Ideas, which is largely funded by the Knight Foundation, also helped lobby for the bill and is working on similar efforts in other states.

Opponents argue that students aren't capable of responsibly editing a newspaper and that even professional journalists can be controlled by publishers and owners.

The Oregon bill says student journalists are responsible for determining the content of school-sponsored media, and gives them the right to sue schools that violate free press rights.

But amendments removed a provision that student media advisers who refuse to censor student publications cannot be fired or transferred.

An amendment also eliminated a provision that designated college publications as public forums.

But advocates still claim victory.

"At a time when so much student expression is being diminished, it is heartening to know that Oregon, consistent with its rich free speech tradition, is at least doing something to stem the tide of censorship of student expression," said Ronald Collins, a scholar for the Nashville-based First Amendment Center.


Information from: The Oregonian,

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