Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Brian Schraum defends HB 1307

Brian Schraum has sent word that, along partisan lines, the House Judiciary Committee has approved House Bill 1307, which would give student journalists full responsibility for their publications. In a separate email, Schraum responds to my thoughts, writing,
You are not alone in making the argument that the school is the publisher/owner of the newspaper, and for that reason should be able to determine the content. The analogy you make, about me demanding to publish something in The Olympian, simply does not hold up. Even the federal courts, which have caused so much damage to the rights of students, recognized this: "The university is clearly an arm of the state and this single fact will always distinguish it from the purely private publisher as far as censorship rights are concerned" (Bazaar v. Fortune). The same holds true for any public school.

Things which are produced at school do not automatically become property of school officials. If that were the case, teachers and professors could claim credit for all student work -- slap their name on it and face no penalty. I don't think that's a just outcome. The same holds true for student newspapers; the work is that of students, regardless of the medium that might be used.

The Supreme Court's Hazelwood decision, which we are seeking to curb with this bill, had not so much to do with that as it did with "perception," in my opinion. The Court justified control of student newspapers simply because the public might falsely think the expression reflected that of the school. This is simply not the case; I don't think any reasonable person would look at a student newspaper and think that a principal was responsible for everything in it.

Boil this down to its core components: you have the government (school officials), and journalists (student reporters). I just don't happen to think government control of journalism does anyone any good.

The core of our disagreement seems to be about who "owns" the newspaper. I strongly disagree with the idea that the school "owns" the newspaper... the closest you might be able to come up with is that "the people" own it. Even if that were the case, we have regulations on how government conducts the peoples' business. Censorship rules are among those. We are attempting to strike a much more reasonable balance with this legislation.

I fully agree with you that no school should be required to support a student newspaper. In fact, many student publications are produced outside of class time, largely or entirely with advertising dollars that students themselves collect. The school is free to decide if it wants to provide financial aid to the publication, or offer credit for working on it... but doing so gives them no more right to censor it than I would have to censor The Olympian by paying for a subscription.
I'll have a response to post shortly. I thank Mr. Schraum for his permission to publish his thoughts.

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