Bill Would Improve Missouri Student Journalists’ Protections

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri lawmakers are considering a bill that would place more restrictions on school administrators who want to censor student journalists.

Under current Missouri law, school administrators can censor anything they consider “sensitive material.” The new law would allow censorship of stories that are libelous, invade privacy, violate law or incite a clear and present danger, The Kansas City Star reported.

The bill passed out of the House in March and is awaiting debate in the Senate.

The current law was established by a Missouri case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1988 that public school students do not have full First Amendment rights in school-sponsored publications.

Sandy Davidson, a lawyer and professor of communications law at the University of Missouri, said state lawmakers have the power to grant protections to students that are not outlined in the Supreme Court decision.

“Sometimes I think that just having a statement can make kind of an atmosphere difference, even if the legal machinery is not optimum,” Davidson said. “Having the legislature make a statement saying that free speech for students in the state of Missouri is important will be a contribution.”

Mitch Eden, newspaper adviser for The Kirkwood Call at Kirkwood High School in St. Louis County, took students to testify in favor of the bill a few weeks ago. He said increased protections are important for students and advisers.

“The worst type of censorship is self-censorship, when the kids say, `Oh, we could never do that,’ and the program dies,” Eden said. Then “they’re producing scrapbooks for yearbooks and their newspapers are PR.”

Rep. Kevin Corlew, a Republican from Kansas City who sponsored the bill, said it’s important to encourage student journalists to be truth finders and fact finders.

“I think it will show that we think that (journalism) is a very important career to go into,” Corlew said. “Not only as a career but as a function of our democracy.”

A similar bill made it out of the House but was never debated on the Senate floor.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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