Oregon leads on free press rights for student media

It was a not-much-noticed accomplishment of the 2007 Oregon Legislature - but a significant one for civil liberties for young people.

From USA Today:

The nation's first law to help protect Oregon high school and college journalists from censorship by school administrations will be signed Friday by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

The Oregon law makes student journalists responsible for determining the content of school-sponsored media, and gives them the right to sue schools if they feel free-press rights have been violated.

It is the country's first law in more than a decade to protect high school journalists, and the first ever to cover both high school and college journalists under one statute, said Warren Watson, director of J-Ideas, a First Amendment institute at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

"This is really a landmark for student journalism," Watson said.

The bill was sponsored and promoted by Rep. Larry Galizio (D-Tigard), who has taught college journalism at Portland Community College.

Why was the bill needed? Because of a growing crackdown on student media across the country.

Attorney Mike Hiestand, a legal consultant for the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said the free-speech rights of college journalists had not been seriously challenged until 2005.

That year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an Illinois case, Hosty v. Carter, that college administrators could impose prior review and restraint on student papers if the publication is not a designated public forum for student expression.

Hiestand said school administrators have since cited the ruling in instituting tighter control over college and high school student publications. Free-speech advocates say the Oregon bill's passage was a victory.

"At a time when so much student expression is being diminished, it is heartening to know that Oregon, consistent with its rich free-speech tradition, is at least doing something to stem the tide of censorship of student expression," said Ronald Collins, a scholar for the Nashville-based First Amendment Center.

Read the rest. Read the text of HB 3279. Discuss.

  • (Show?)

    I love that this bill aims to strengthen First Amendment rights. I love that Oregon is getting some national recognition for defending First Amendment rights and forstrengthening both media and education. I love that some of my favorite legislators sponsored this.

    I'm a little confused on the specifics, though, specifically the "student media advisor" it names. The student media advisor's role under this statute appears vague, and seems like it could provide a back door for a school to exercise censorship.

    Furthermore, the student publication I served on for a couple (few?) semesters - the Reed College Quest - would not be covered, I don't think…we never had such an "advisor."

    Here are the relevant bits:

      (b) 'School-sponsored media' means materials that are ... prepared under the direction of a student media adviser. ... (d) 'Student media adviser' means a person who is employed, appointed or designated by a public institution of higher education to supervise, or provide instruction relating to, school-sponsored media.

    Finally, it's worth noting a bit of history from the U of O's Daily Emerald. In 1966 it ran a story that quoted anonymous sources who admitted smoking marijuana. Managing editor Annette Buchanan was fined, but not jailed, for not revealing her sources. The case went as high as the Oregon Supreme Court, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

    That case formed prompted legislators to pass Oregon's "shield law" shortly thereafter. Also, it prompted students to establish a non-profit organization to produce the Emerald.

    So if I understand correctly, this law doesn't apply to the Emerald, either - it's already entirely independent of any oversight by the U of O.

    See here for a little more history. If anybody knows a better source, please post it.

  • (Show?)

    There is more good coverage of this story, including controversy over the Senate amendments, here.

    Huge credit to Rep. Larry Galizio for his work on HB 3279. Larry didn't take this on to curry favor with an interest group or lobbyist, and there weren't big guns backing the bill within the Capitol. Instead, he wrote and championed HB 3279 because he is personally committed to the idea of a free student press -- the model of public-spirited lawmaking.

    Incidentally, the floor debate on HB 3279 in the House was (in my opinion) one of the better we had all session. Listen to it here (advance to 1:51:50 -- it lasts about a half-hour). You can practically hear minds being changed during the debate. Opinions did not divide strictly along partisan lines, and Reps. Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton) and Bill Garrard (R-Klamath Falls) speak quite eloquently in support. (Note that we were debating the A-Engrossed version of the bill, not the version that became law.)

    Ben Cannon State Representative

  • (Show?)

    …and now you know why I called him one of my favorite legislators.

    Ben, please continue to post notable audio of good legislative sessions. What a great way to get to know our representatives.

    But Ben, what of this "student media adviser?" Seems like a way for a school to exert control, if it so chooses, but dodge accountability. Seems that a whole lot of authority is explicitly granted to that position, without any guidelines around how that person is chosen, or how their performance is evaluated.

    If the idea is for students to be in control - especially in a college scenario, where said students are adults, and could be sued if they violate the law - then why introduce this odd adviser figure?

    A side note…the lead in the USA Today story is just silly. "The nation's first law to help protect Oregon high school and college journalists" - like another state would pass a law regarding Oregon students?! California already passed a similar law, and I think several other states as well. See here.

  • (Show?)

    I am one of those "student media advisors" for an educational access television channel and radio station. I am thrilled to think about a new school year where my students have more choices about what they can cover.

    I work for a great school district but we have had to debate certain pieces for air. My students are earning college credit while covering everything from live election night broadcasts to documentaries on meth.

    I am grateful my local reps (Hunt and Tomei) were co-sponsors. This is a great chance to give students more opportunities to learn the rights and responsibilities of professional broadcast and print journalists.

  • Eric J. (unverified)

    The same Deborah Barnes coached by a hall of fame debate coach in high school that also coached me? Can't think of a better media advisor.

  • (Show?)

    Deborah, that's great. Can you offer any insight how you got into that position, or what the school district expects of someone in your position?

    I think I chose my words poorly, and hope they didn't offend - I definitely think people in your position can be an excellent educational asset and offer valuable guidance. My question is only about the shape of the bureaucratic structure that picks 'em and supervises 'em.

  • (Show?)


    You wouldn't be thinking "Edge" would you??


    I was a radio and television news reporter for 14 years before I became a Broadcasting and Digital Media teacher. Like other advisors, I am supervised by my principal. However, I also work closely with the Director of Community Relations because the work of my students goes out to the community on cable access.

    The district does expect professional broadcast standards, fairness and equal time when we are working a controversial issue. I expect the same from my students.

  • Eric J. (unverified)

    Correct...and a very good "Edge" too.

  • Rob Melton (unverified)
    <h2>California Teachers Association is considering some new proposed language that would protect student media advisers with "whistleblower" protection. The bill introduced by Larry included adviser protection because when administrators can't go after students, they frequently go after the advisers. I have been researching these stories for the last six months, and many of them are shocking. The most well-known story out of Indiana is about an adviser who the district considered firing, then because of their union contract had to move her to another high school and are not allowing her to teach journalism for three years. She also had to accept a week without pay as punishment. What did she do to deserve this? She "allowed" her editor to publish an editorial advocating tolerance for gays. There are many others that would take up too much space here, but you get the point. I, too, am a student media adviser. I teach at Benson Polytechnic H.S. in Portland. I have a degree in journalism from University of Oregon, and worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and photographer before becoming a journalism teacher.</h2>
in the news 2007

connect with blueoregon