By THE BLUE AND GRAY PRESS EDITORIAL BOARD
As student journalists, many members of our staff have personally faced censorship either at the collegiate level or while working on high school publications. This is not uncommon, as a 1988 Supreme Court ruling allowed for censorship by school administrators. However, new bills introduced to the Virginia General Assembly are pushing to restore the First Amendment rights of student journalists and provide protections for student media advisers.
These “New Voices” bills will protect public K-12 and college journalists from censorship except in cases where content is defamatory, violates federal law or spurs acts of violence. Fourteen states already have similar laws.
A Washington Post article from last week detailed cases of censored student media in Virginia.
According to the article, student journalists from George Mason High School in Northern Virginia gathered data and found that public high schools in states with anti-censorship laws were more likely to win journalism awards than schools in states without those laws. In other words, censorship impedes quality journalism.
Danica Roem (D-Prince William), one of the delegates that introduced the House bill, told the Washington Post that she worries censorship will teach bad habits to future journalists or kill their enthusiasm for the profession. “We can’t have teenage reporters being treated like PR outlets by the administration, ” Roem said. “That helps exactly no one.”
The fostering of passionate, responsible journalists is particularly important now as local news outlets are disappearing and the media is attacked on a daily basis. We speak from experience when we say this is difficult while high schools are still subject to prior review by the administration and advisors are afraid to let students tackle investigative pieces. A hearing on the bill will likely take place in late January, and the staff of the Blue & Gray Press will be supporting New Voices.