Friday, February 20, 2009

Columnist endorses high school media bill

Tom Eblen, columnist and former managing editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, wrote in his column published Thursday, Feb. 19, about pending legislation that would limit the ability of Kentucky educators to censor high-school media.

Eblen, a former student editor at Lexington's Lafayette High School, wrote that high school media don't exist "to train future journalists so much as to train future citizens. In a world awash in information, citizens need to know how to tell good journalism from bad, truth from propaganda, substance from fluff. That requires training — and freedom. And it's an area where Kentucky can lead the way."

House Bill 43, sponsored by Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, is before the House Education Committee. It would grant student journalists the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press in school-sponsored media except when their work includes libel or slander, involves an unwarranted invasion of privacy, breaks laws or school policies, or disrupts the orderly operation of the school. It would limit the legal liability of school officials for student-journalist publications or broadcasts, although, as Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LaMonte told Eblen, there is no published court decision resulting from a suit filed against a school because of student journalism. The bill would also require school boards in districts that include at least one public high school to adopt a policy on students' freedom of expression.

Seven states have similar laws, which were passed in response to a 1988 Supreme Court decision that said the First Amendment does not protect the free press rights of high school students when the newspaper is part of a sponsored class. The Kentucky Press Association and the Bluegrass and Cincinnati chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists have endorsed the bill.

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