Protecting college journalists in California

by   |  05.17.06  |  Current Events

Former Comm Law student and Optimist ME Lori Bredemeyer sends this story along from California. You’ll recall the Supreme Court recently let stand a 2005 decision in Hosty v. Carter, in which the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals essentially said public universities can exercise control over campus newspapers if that newspaper has not become a designated public forum.

California apparently is set to counter that decision, carving out special protection for public college newspapers through the state constitution. You’ll recall that the Court in PruneYard v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74 (1982) said California and other states had the right to expand First Amendment protections beyond those recognized by the First Amendment.

The story:

Assembly votes to ensure college newspaper First Amendment rights
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO (AP) – University administrators would be prohibited from censoring student newspapers at California’s colleges and universities under a bill approved Thursday by the Assembly.
California would be the first state to extend First Amendment protections to college journalists if the bill becomes law.
“Prior restraint and prior review are not the hallmarks of Democracy,” said the bill’s author, Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.
Lawmakers in the 80-member chamber approved the bill 76-0 without debate. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Yee introduced the bill in April in reaction to a federal court ruling last year in Illinois.
In July, the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that administrators at Midwest universities could review student articles before publication. The court decided that Governors State University, a public university near Chicago, could regulate its student-run newspaper because it was published under the auspices of the college.
The decision was limited to Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. But the California Newspaper Publishers Association and free speech advocates fear state college administrators might try to apply the ruling to campuses in other states.
Last June, Christine Helwick, general counsel for the California State University system, sent a memo to the presidents of each campus suggesting they may “have more latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidized student newspapers.”
Helwick did not immediately respond Thursday to a telephone message seeking comment.
California lawmakers are the first to propose a law guaranteeing freedom of speech and press for college journalists, said Mike Hiestand, an attorney and legal consultant to the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va.
“We’ve had over three decades of (case) law protecting college student press rights. This 7th Court ruling is a huge change,” Hiestand said. “I think some college administrators have been looking at that for ammunition in engaging in student censorship.”
Yee said state law protects freedom of speech on college and university campuses, but does not cover written articles.
“We need to be very clear to college administrators: Let’s not use any outside influence to control the newspapers on our campuses,” Yee said.
The Legislature in 1992 passed a bill shielding high school students from censorship, except for material that is obscene, libelous or slanderous. Backers say students at CSU, the University of California and community colleges should be given the same protections as professional journalists.
Under the bill, campus administrators still could discipline students for publishing hate speech. Campus newspapers also would be subject to libel and slander laws, Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said.
The bill is AB2581. ¶