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Dealing with unwanted, forced prior review? QT26


by John Bowen, MJE

JEA historically has opposed prior review of student media by school officials.

That opposition continues.

Prior review leads only to control, active censorship and iis the first step toward the spread of fake news and less than complete disinformation. 

Students and advisers, though, may have no immediate choice but to be under prior review by school officials.

The question then becomes what might the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommend for consideration until adviser and students, and maybe school officials, create a way to trust and empower student decision-making and civic engagement as designated public forums.

Consider these possibilities:

As journalism teachers we know our students learn more when they make content choices. Prior review and restraint do not teach students to produce higher quality journalism or to become more journalistically responsible.

As journalism teachers we know the only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to train them and for that responsibility.

As journalism teachers we know democracy depends on students who understand all voices have a right to be heard and have a voice in their school and community.

Thus, to help students achieve 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 for 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;
  • Attempt to follow and support JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics;
  • Provide students with tools that include adequate knowledge and resources to successfully carry out their work. By using these tools, students 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 making decisions, modeli the value of the learning process and demonstrate the trust we place in our educational system;
  • Empower students to understand what journalistic responsibility requires and how to achieve credible journalism where prior review and restraint are not necessary;
  • Model a professional newsroom atmosphere where students share in and take responsibility for their work. In so doing, scholastic journalists increase dialogue and help ensure civic engagement;
  • 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.

While we know advisers will make decisions regarding prior review and other educational issues based on what they believe they can support philosophically, the SPRC reiterates its strong rejection of prior review, and hence prior restraint, as tools in the educational process.

Even though we offer tQuick Tip below as a temporary measure for those who face prior review or have no choice about prior review, this process is not a pathway to building stronger student media and ultimately more engaged citizens.


Quick Tips: When prior review is your only choice

Guideline:  While students and advisers, who have to operate under prior review, work toward changing that situation, they should also believe in, and support, those who practice journalism as a designated public forum.

Question: What policies should you negotiate when you are stuck with prior review?

Key points/action: JEA historically has – and does – oppose prior review by school officials. It is an unacceptable practice with no educational value. Prior review only leads to control, active censorship and the first steps toward fake news and less than complete disinformation.

It is possible, though, students and advisers have no immediate choice but to be under prior review by school officials.

The question then becomes what the SPRC would recommend until adviser, students and school officials, provide all involved (students, advisers, faculty, administrators, school board and communities) with a better learning environment than prior review.

Stance: While students and advisers work toward a no prior review goal, we would suggest these steps toward an alternative:

  • Student media are identified and practice as designated public forums for student expression where student editors and staff make all final decisions of content.
  • Before publishing or posting pages/broadcast/web materials, administrators have the length of a school day (the day they are given materials) to review content and to ask questions. Materials should be given in a timely manner.
  • All content must return to students’ hands at the end of the day, on schedule, for publication.
  • If administrators/school officials have questions, they may request meeting time within that day, which will not delay publication.
  • School officials may comment, ask questions or request changes.
  • All final decisions remain with the student journalists as they meet their deadlines. They can choose to heed school officials requests or suggestions or go with content as it was.

Reasoning/suggestions: If review is to help students learn and to identify areas of administrative concern rather than content control, this process should provide adequate opportunity for discussion and collaboration – and keep the journalistic process on track.

Student critical thinking, decision-making and application of learning objectives across the school’s mission remain intact, creating time for a more permanent forum practice to be forged.

Resources:  SPRC

Prior review

JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package that protects journalistically responsible student expression.





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