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LETTER: Bill protects high school reporters

January 19, 2018

During a time when we can choose from a multitude of news outlets, it’s important that we understand basic principles of journalism: independence, accuracy, fairness, the separation of opinion from news reporting.

That education should start no later than high school with students learning the responsibilities that come with the freedom of speech and freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment. That’s why the American Bar Association endorsed the New Voices legislative movement, which strengthens the ability of students to exercise their First Amendment rights in an educational setting. HB 1016, authored by state Reps. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, embodies the New Voices language.

High school and to a lesser degree collegiate journalists need legislation to protect a constitutional right because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that a school principal could block publication of two articles in a student newspaper because he considered them inappropriate. This opened the door for school administrators to censor student journalists under a vague “pedagogical” standard. Before the Hazelwood case, student free speech limits were based on Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), where the Supreme Court ruled that students did not leave their First Amendment rights at the school house door. Action by school administration to block student publication was only appropriate if the speech incited students to disrupt the operation of the school.

New Voices legislation restores this clear standard for student journalists. HB 1016 gives aspiring high school and collegiate journalists the opportunity to learn how to craft accurate and fair stories that concern their school communities. They learn the importance of using credible sources, how to fact-check, and recognize community standards. High school publications advisers have to be certified to take on the responsibility of guiding the students in this educational process, so students learn that with freedom of speech comes responsibility.

We hope that the House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, will approve HB 1016, as it did last session. It is a step forward in educating today’s youth in how to be responsible citizens. We urge students, parents and civic-minded Hoosiers to ask their state legislators to support this legislation.

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Stephen Key, executive director, Hoosier State Press Association

Ryan Gunterman, executive director, Indiana High School Press Association

Adam Maksl, executive director, Indiana Collegiate Press Association

 

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