Assembly Speaker pro Tem Leland Yee announced the nation’s first bill to protect the First Amendment's right to freedom of speech and press for college and university newspapers.
If passed, the bill - AB 2581 - would prohibit censorship of student newspapers at any UC, CSU, or community college.
“AB 2581 is an important bill for all of us who care about democracy,” Yee (D-San Francisco/Daly City) said.
Around 30 students and faculty from various Bay Area schools attended the press conference on at Skyline College in San Bruno on April 18 at 10 a.m. The purpose of the conference was to educate individuals on the new bill and its importance to college newspapers.
The bill came out as a result of a recent case - Hosty v. Carter - at the Governor’s State University in Illinois. Last year the administrators at the school wanted to view all stories prior to publication. The reason behind this was because of negative things written about the administration.
The District Court ruled that the students’ First Amendment rights were violated, but the Seventh Court of Appeals reversed the low court decision. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to let the students appeal.
Some college professors said that they felt strongly this bill should be passed.
“I hold very dear that the bill safeguards our student journalists,” said Nancy Kaplan-Biegal, a journalism professor at Skyline College, and advisor of the Skyline View campus newspaper.
In addition to professors, some journalism students also voiced strong feelings about their right to free speech.
“People in the U.S. (are) guaranteed freedom,” said Reginald James, a student of Laney College, and a representative of the Journalism Association of Community Colleges. “I am blessed to use my voice. It’s not a privilege, it’s a right.”
According to James, reviewing stories prior to publication is something that he thinks the student government should be in charge of.
SF State journalism professor and advisor, Rachele Kanigel, said that although students make mistakes in writing for their college newspaper, there are also many times college newspapers are thorough with their stories. They are well written and entailed with accurate information, she added.
“I support readers, not administrators,” Kanigel said. “Many times, college campuses get it right.”
Kanigel also said she had spoken with many students who have been sanctioned.
Kanigel spoke of a student who wrote about a school cafeteria, which had violated certain health codes and published it in the school newspaper. The student was punished for it.
“It is very important that this bill goes through,” she said.
According to Yee, there are no real negative aspects, which could occur from the bill being passed.
“I can’t imagine any,” Yee said. “Democracy demands that we have a free press.”
There are certain implications to the bill, according to Jim Ewert, a representative from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. There is a need to prevent regions at the UC and CSU level of trustees and the governing board for community colleges, he said.
The second implication is that it provides no authority for prior restraints for speech and student press activity.
Yee’s spokesman, Adam Keigwin also voiced his opinions on free speech in college newspapers.
“Having to submit articles before publication is ridiculous,” Keigwin said. “Grant them free speech rights. They should be able to practice, who else is going to watch them?”
Some students said that the bill is a tool that colleges need in order for their school newspapers to be successful and report the truth.
“It’s a big issue,” said Diana Mercado, 19, an English freshman at Skyline College. “I’m for free speech. We pay tax dollars to public schools and it’s a public institution. Just because schools fund the journalism department doesn’t mean they have censorship.”