Here’s a question in our series raising a variety of Questions for Thought. Hopefully, as you consider answers, you and your students will address some important principles of scholastic journalism. Our Constitution Day lessons can now be accessed from the menu bar above, titled Constitution Day 2011.
#3: What would happen if press freedoms would be restrained just once? Take one incident and extend the repercussions into the future. For example, what would happen if the school board refused just once to allow reporting of a controversial issue?
For an interesting and detailed article about the latest information in the ongoing battle against administrative censorship, check out today’s article in the News Tribune.
Be sure to read the comments. Students who need end-of-the-year activities might find this an issue worth comment.
One of the story’s points deals with the district’s attitude toward prior review as a way of protecting itself.
(Superintendent Tony) “Apostle, the Puyallup superintendent, declined to speak to The News Tribune. He did provide a copy of a letter he sent to students, saying the School Board does not intend to rescind its prior review rule. He said district lawyers have urged the board to retain the rule unless students and their parents agree to be financially liable for future legal claims,” the story reported.
The story also indicated student journalist attempts to report on the trial were themselves censored.
“Student journalist Allie Rickard withdrew her article after a district lawyer wanted to remove a direct quote and insert a sanitized version,” the News tribune reported. “The lawyer, Mike Patterson, also told Rickard that she could not include the names of the four student plaintiffs – even though they are part of the public record and had been published elsewhere, including in The News Tribune.
“Lawyers also asked Rickard to eliminate a sentence that explained a controversial legal concept in the trial.”
A school spokesman said the changes were not to censor but correct.
At the spring Portland JEA/NSPA convention, JEA’s board passed a definition of prior review and prior restraint. The SPLC also recently endorsed the statement.
At the time, the Press Right Commission was directed to design a recommended process and guidelines on how advisers might handle prior review if faced with it. Below you will fine those guidelines and process along with links to supporting philosophy and resources. We welcome your input.
While we know advisers will make decisions regarding prior review and other educational issues based on what they believe they can best support philosophically, JEA reiterates its strong rejection of prior review, and hence prior restraint, as a tool in the educational process. With that belief, we feel an obligation to help advisers faced with this situation.
Statements to accompany JEA’s definitions of prior review and restraint:
As journalism teachers, we know our students learn more when they make publication choices and that prior review or restraint do not teach students to produce higher quality journalism.
As journalism teachers, we know the only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to give them the responsibility to make those decisions freely.
As journalism teachers, we know democracy depends on students understanding all voices have a right to be heard and knowing they have a voice in their school and community.
Thus, to help students achieve work that is up to professional standards, journalism educators should consider the following process:
• Encourage transparency about who determines the content of a student publication by alerting readers and viewers when student media are subject to prior review and restraint;
• Advocate the educational benefits of student press freedom if student media are subject to prior review or restraint;
• Provide students with access to sources of professional advice outside the school for issues they need to address;
• Provide students with tools that include adequate knowledge and resources to successfully carry out their work. By using these tools, we build trust in the learning process and the theories on which it is based;
• Encourage students to seek multiple points of view and to explore a variety of credible sources in their reporting and decision-making;
• Coach instead of make requirements or demands thus modeling the value of the learning process and demonstrating the trust we place in our educational system;
• Empower students to know the difference between sound and unsound journalism and how to counsel their peers about potential dangers;
• Model a professional newsroom atmosphere where students share in and take responsibility for their work. In so doing, we increase dialogue and help ensure civic and journalistic responsibility;
• Use peer editing to encourage student interaction, analysis and problem solving;
• Instruct students about civic engagement and journalism’s role in maintaining and protecting our democratic heritage;
• Showcase student media where the dissemination of information is unfiltered by prior review and restraint so the school’s various communities receive accurate, truthful and complete information.
Recommended process if facing prior review, restraint
If, after employing the above techniques, student journalists still object to changes an adviser discusses, the following describes a process to handle potential disagreement:
1. Adviser and students disagree about content for publication.
2. Adviser and students discuss all angles of the disagreement; they try to find common ground.
3. The adviser and students decide if the disagreement is based on an ethical issue or a legal one.
4. If violations of libel, obscenity, unwarranted invasion of privacy, copyright infringement or material disruption of the school process are likely at stake, the adviser urges students to get advice of the Student Press Law Center or reliable legal resource. Not just any school lawyer or administrator will do. The resource, which could include non-live information, must be reputable for scholastic media. The phrase “unprotected speech” might not be enough because Hazelwood so muddied the concept.
5. If the disagreement is not over a legal consideration, the adviser urges students to consider the “red light” or similar questions raised by The Poynter Institute to see how various stakeholders might react if the material is published. Students see and consider the possible outcomes of publication and discuss with the adviser ramifications of their actions.
6. Adviser and students continue to discuss and explore alternative approaches until they reach a point of no possible agreement.
7. This process fulfills the adviser’s commitment to advise, not to make or require decisions, and to be cognizant of his/her responsibilities to school and students.
The Journalism Education Association reiterates its position that prior review and prior restraint violate its Adviser Code of Ethics and educational philosophy.
Additional links and resources:
• 10 Tips for Covering Controversial Subjects from the press rights commission website
• Questions advisers should ask those who want to implement prior review from commission blog
• JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics from the commission blog. Scroll to the bottom
• JEA’s statement on prior review from the JEA website
• Results of a Master’s study on prior review and publication awards from the commission’s website
• Resources from the press rights commission on developing professional standards from press rights website
• NSPA Model Code of Ethics for student journalists from NSPA’s website
The Student Press Law Center, in its May 4 blog, put JEA’s newly adopted definitions of prior review and prior restraint into legal and educational perspective.
“If a school official insists on reading a student publication ahead of time, they will eventually try to censor it,” SPLC consultant Mike Hiestand wrote. “I would like someone to prove me wrong on this, but I’ve never seen an established system of prior review that has ever remained a pure “reading only” practice.”
In its newly adopted guidelines, JEA created the following definitions:
• Prior review occurs when anyone not on the publication/media staff requires that he or she be allowed to read, view or approve student material before distribution, airing or publication.
• Prior restraint occurs when someone not on the publication/media staff requires pre-distribution changes to or removal of student media content.
“In the real world …” Hiestand wrote, “experienced, trained advisers that work closely with their students, offering suggestions for improvement — often after reading the content ahead of time — can be a valuable and welcome resource, something the JEA recognizes in excluding such ‘advising’ from its definition of prior review. But even advisers, the definitions recognize, can go too far, and ‘when an adviser requires pre-distribution changes over the objections of student editors,’ the definition states, ‘his/her actions then become prior restraint.’”
Check jeasprc.org soon for recommendations on how advisers can assist students without making decisions for them or requiring them to make changes they don’t want to make.
Students and friends of student media in Washington’s Puyallup school district are ready to take the next step in their fight against prior review since a jury declared they had not invaded students’ privacy and the school had no liability in a story about oral sex.
Their next fight will be in the court of public opinion.
Student journalists in the three schools have set up a Facebook site in preparation for an organizational meeting May 3 to urge local schools to drop prior review from Puyallup publication policies. The site has 300 plus friends.
They also have a Twitter site.
They are psyched and have T-shirts, buttons and flyers.
They have talked to Henry Rome, 2009 JEA Journalist of the Year who, with other students in his community started a website to convince his school not to implement prior review.
The Friends of the Spoke won. The Conestoga High students also presented a session at the Portland JEA/NSPA convention about how others could duplicate their feat. Rome also addressed the convention about their fight. Their website also has information on the resources they used in an effort to change the board’s views.
Now, the Puyallup students will try to do the same.
Check out their website. Join their cause. Consider such action if you face prior review.
Prior review – which leads only to prior restraint –has no educational value. Help end it in Puyallup’s schools.