Bill backing student journalists presented in Missouri House

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Walter Cronkite New Voices Act was introduced in the Emerging Issues Committee at the state Capitol Monday. 

The bill would prevent administrators and public schools from restricting student journalists. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Elijah Haahr, R- Springfield, said the contents and viewpoints of student journalists shouldn't be restricted unless libelous or otherwise dangerous.

"We don't want schools or universities to step in between journalists and the masses," Haahr said. 

Under this bill, schools wouldn't be allowed to use prior restrainst to stop a student journalist. 

The bill states, "a student journalist has the right to express freedom of speech and of the press..., regardless of whether the media is supported financially by the institution."

Rep. Haahr said he created this bill in response to "the bad light" the state received after assistant professor Melissa Click confronted a student journalist during the November protests on MU's campus. 

"We want to tell people, 'no, Missouri is a place that promotes free speech, that promotes the rights of journalists to videotape and record, and report on those issues that are of interest to the viewers'," Haahr said. 

Tim Tai, the student journalist involved in the confrontation with Melissa Click, testified at the hearing in support of the bill.

"It really doesn't have much to do with what happened to me on campus last November," Tai said about his testimony. "It's more about protecting the rights of student journalists at both the collegiate and high school levels, and that's something that I think is absolutely necessary."

Tai was one of eight people to testify in front of the committee in support of the bill. Others included journalism teachers, students and advisors as well as Student Press Law Center Representative Frank LoMonte and student free speech advocate Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey. Kuhlmeier Frey was the plaintiff in the 1988 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case in which the Supreme Court decided educators were allowed to exercise greater control over student expression.

The Missouri Association of School Administrators expressed concern with the bill in regards to its relationship with the Hazelwood case.

"The passage of HB2058 would take away the local control of a school district/school board in making determinations as to what speech may be appropriate in a school-sponsored newspaper," MASA said in a memorandum sent to the committee.

Tai and others at the hearing supported the rights of student journalists to practice journalism without prior restraint.

"Student journalists are legitimate journalists," Tai said. "And I think this law will serve to affirm that."