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Fighting self-censorship

Advisers should oppose student self-censorship, empower decision-making

Advisers and students should oppose attempts at both internal and external censorship. However, that does not equate with student media covering topics that lack journalistic merit or don’t satisfy a journalistic function. Students should journalistically examine and evaluate media content.

Social media post/question:

Why should advisers actively oppose censorship?

Stance:

Advisers and students should oppose internal and external censorship. This may include administrative, staff, faculty and even self-censorship. However, that does not equate with student media covering topics that lack journalistic merit or satisfy a journalism function. Students should journalistically examine and evaluate media content.

Reasoning/suggestions:

Journalism teachers must work to stem the tide of self-censorship.

In a survey administered to the NSPA/JEA convention at a recent JEA/NSPA convention, both students and advisers stated they experienced self-censorship. According to the survey, “39 percent of students and 32 percent of advisers said their staff had decided not to publish something based on the belief that school officials would censor it.”

This fear of censorship or of being disciplined for content shouldn’t occur. Advisers must work to educate their students and others about the problems of self-censorship in regard to topics that are journalistically and ethically sound.

A journalism teacher’s duties is in the job title — advise(r).

According to the JEA Adviser Code of Ethics, journalism advisers should,  “Advise and mentor, rather than act as censor or decision-maker.” Teachers need to empower students to make content decisions and fight against student self-censorship.

If advisers censor students, they not only violate this code, they also teach students it is acceptable for a government entity to censor someone’s First Amendment rights. When public teachers function as employees of the government, that is exactly what we teach.

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

Female High School Students Bear the Burden of Censorship, SPLC.org

Curing Hazelwoodpackage, SPRC

The Role of Student Media: Foundations Package, SPRC

SPLC resources, SPLC

JEA Adviser Code of Ethics

Self Censorship is the Scariest of All, SPRC

 

Blog:

Advisers and students should oppose self-censorship (and other forms of staff censorship) and attempts administrative censorship. However, that does not equate with student media covering topics that lack journalistic merit or satisfy a journalism function. Students should journalistically examine and evaluate media content. See this blogon including controversial coverage.

 

If advisers censor students, they not only ignore JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics, they are also teach students that it is acceptable for a government entity to censor someone’s First Amendment right. When public teachers are functioning as employees of the government, that is exactly what they are teaching.

 

While teachers shouldn’t be leading the fight for the students’ First Amendment rights, teachers can work to educate others in the building (other teachers, administrators, school board members and students) about students’ rights.

 

If a problem does occur, it is important for the teacher to take in union representation (if possible) and document the meeting. Also, ask for notes and written directives. If you don’t follow these directives, you could be seen as insubordinate.

 

Advisers who understand that educating others about the students rights are important may find it easier if a problem does exists. If the students already know they can reach out to the Student Press Law Center or hit JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee’s Panic Button, the teacher has empowered the students to fight this fight.

 

 

 

OR:

 

 

Every August I have the talk with my editors. It’s not about the proverbial birds and the bees, instead it’s about what to do and who to contact if someone attempts to censor their content.

 

The students receive the Student Press Law Center’s contact information and information about how to access and hit SPRC’s Panic Button.

 

A few years ago I also learned of a “secret” document that has been passed down from editor to editor since 2011. From what I’m told, the document outlines this information and states exactly what I can and can’t help with. It seems my students actually do want me to keep my job.

 

My students know that if a censorship situation occurs, I cannot help them. They have to be the ones to fight for their First Amendment rights. In fact, when my students filed a lawsuit during the spring of 2017, I didn’t know about it until I saw Echo’s tweet that the students had sued the school for access to hallway video of an alleged hijab pull. Later I learned they filed a Freedom of Information Act request without my knowledge, found their own pro bono attorney and I also suspect they have documents about this request I still have never seen.

 

During this process, I did know something was up. I would walk into the Echo room and everyone would get quiet. At times they would tell me to go fill my coffee mug or a student would ask if he or she could speak to me outside the publications room about something — and it really wasn’t anything that needed discussing. During all of this, my gut told me they were conspiring about something or planning a party. I just had to trust in whatever it was they were doing.

 

This experience of having to blindly trust the students was a good one for me. I know my students understand a First Amendment fight is not one I can or will wage. They have to take the initiative.

 

What I’ve learned through this is that I will continue to trust my students and continue to education them on their rights prior to a problem occurring. If students already know they can reach out to the Student Press Law Center or hit JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee’s Panic Button before a problem exists, the teacher has empowered the students to fight this fight.

 

 

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