Wednesday, February 11, 2009

SPJ chapters back high-school newspaper bill

The Cincinnati Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which represents journalists in Kentucky as well as Ohio, has declared its support for a bill in the Kentucky House to extend First Amendment rights to high school students.

"We believe that a free and uncensored press is essential to the vitality of American democracy," the group said in a statement issued yesterday. "We believe that all journalists, regardless of age, should be able to practice their craft openly, freely and without fear of retribution or censorship."

The Bluegrass chapter of SPJ endorsed House Bill 43 in December. "SPJ believes you can't start young people's understanding of their rights -- and responsibilities -- as citizens too early," SPJ Bluegrass board member Ken Kurtz told the KOG Blog. Noting that school officials have often tried to censor student papers on issues of importance to them, Kurtz added: "Censorship and freedom are opposites. HB 43 will support freedom for young journalists - the future of our profession." The Louisville SPJ chapter has not commented on the bill. Other journalism groups, including the Kentucky Press Association and Kentucky Broadcasters Association, have endorsed it.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, is titled "An act relating to high school newspapers." It would require school boards in districts that include at least one public high school to adopt a policy on students' freedom of expression. The bill also limits the legal liability of school officials for student journalist publications or broadcasts. 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 "orderly operation of the school." It is in the House Education Committee.

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