Student journalists could gain more free speech protection, editorial control

1 year 1 month 3 weeks ago January 31, 2016 Jan 31, 2016 Sunday, January 31 2016 Sunday, January 31, 2016 8:42:00 PM CST in News
By: Katie Moeller, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - Missouri could soon allow student journalists more control over what they publish, both in classes and in school-sponsored publications. 

The Missouri House of Representatives will hear testimony Monday concerning the Walter Cronkite New Voices Act.

Sponsored by Rep. Elijah Haahr (R), the act states that "a student journalist is responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media". 

University of Missouri Communications Law professor Sandy Davidson said the bill is not the first of its kind. 

"We've seen New Voices Acts being considered across the country. It began in North Dakota last year, and about twenty states so far have at least started discussing it," Davidson said.

Davidson said while the idea of outlining student journalists' rights is certainly not limited to Missouri, the passage of such an act could positively impact the environment for student journalists in the state.

"We all may be thinking of a certain incident between a professor and a student on MU's campus," Davidson said. "This act would not necessarily prevent other confrontational situations, but the tone of the bill suggests that the legislature is standing with student journalists." 

Missouri was the starting place of one of the Supreme Court's most contested decisions regarding student speech in 1988 - Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. 

The Supreme Court ruled in the Hazelwood case that editorial control over school-sponsored media was ultimately in the hands of school administration, not student writers. 

Davidson said that while individual states cannot decrease the First Amendment right to free speech, they can grant additional free speech protection, effectively changing the Hazelwood decision on a statewide level.

"Eight states give students greater freedom of expression than the First Amendment. The question is, will Missouri join those states?" Davidson said. 

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