Pages Navigation Menu

Face, fight and educate
those who would limit media

by John Bowen, MJE
A Boston Globe article about its Aug. 16 campaign for media to speak out against President Donald Trump’s attacks on journalists called the president’s rhetoric ”alarming.”`

“Whatever happened to the free press?  Whatever happened to honest reporting,” the reporter quotes the president in an Aug. 2 political rally in Pennsylvania. “They don’t report it. They only make it up.”

The Globe seeks editorial comment from other media to stress potential damage to our democracy from the intimidation,  and the importance of an unfettered press.

In a way, the current round of attacks from the president and others have some roots in the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court’s Hazelwood decision. The court’s majority enabled public school officials to limit student expression – not just of student media but any expression in school – under certain conditions.

We now have a generation of teachers and administrators, let along their students, who have only seen media control in many  of our schools.

In a way, the current round of attacks from the president and others have some roots in the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court’s Hazelwood decision. The court’s majority enabled public school officials to limit student expression – not just of student media but any expression in school – under certain conditions.

Hazelwood and other decisions essentially created an expectation student media in public schools could and should be controlled.

If school officials frowned upon criticism, demanded a positive image and prior reviewed and restrained where information did not match their their view of what student media should be, that became the norm. Challenge it and students faced censorship, suspension, withdrawal of school recommendations.

Why should the media be able to criticize school decisions, present controversial and unpleasant stories? It was not what some schools taught or practiced.

Facts changed to fit the views of those in charge created an early version of “fake news” and misinformation by omission.

During the years since ( and before) Hazelwood, scholarly research shows growing mistrust of the media.and growth of negative  attitudes toward the First Amendment.

Perhaps, as voters aged, they expected to see a continuation of the chained version of scholastic media many schools did and continue to face.

Nat Hentoff, a First Amendment scholar and avid supporter, said controlled media created “parchment under glass,” referring to freedoms expressed in the Bill of Rights and Constitution. Unused freedoms become even more brittle.

When voters and those still in school see limited, continuously denigrated guidelines of our democracy become more brittle.

When government leaders, who we want to be our moral faces of America, wage what the Globe calls “a dirty war against the free press” against the nation’s media or its school media, it’s time to take action, short and long term.

Scholastic media advisers and students can and should:take action to:

  • Work as best we can to convince school officials and voters about the educational harm of review and censorship. Information restricted becomes“fake,” incomplete misinformation
  • Work to educate school and local communities about the journalistic process, inviting them to join with students to produce credible news
  • Work to create news literacy teaching and production units for each course of the school’s curricular areas
  • Work to actively support state legislation to negate Hazelwood’s effects in all schools and/or nationally
  • Work to empower student journalists in all schools to practice credible, accurate, verifiable and contextual journalism, reinforced by strong and effective ethical guidelines. Stressing this practice should begin to ease fears that spawned Hazelwood’s damage.

Far too many journalists at scholastic levels still must  fight for their right to practice  thorough and contextual reporting.

Some, like those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, use their voices on a national level following a mass shooting last spring.

Others have a different story.

Journalists at Prosper High in Texas faced prior review, restraint and the inability to present opinions this year.

They and others fought the new restrictions.

They learned, just before school started, their policy of prior review and no opinion pieces would not be in effect as planned.

“I think [the administration] decided to change it because of all the press that we got,” said Assistant Editor Haley Stack. “… I mean, once it reached up to the New York Times, I think they realized that they really need to change something before they started getting a really bad name for themselves.”  

This quote, reported by the Student Press Law Center, shows journalists can create change.

Face and fight – and educate – those who would control the media – at any level.

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.