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Re-establishing our belief in the right forum

Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Just because the 2nd Circuit Federal Appeals Court recently handed down a decision in R.O. v. Ithaca City School District laden with shaky interpretations and references, it is not time to surrender or alter our beliefs.

“Drawings of stick figures in sexual positions clearly qualify as ‘lewd,’ that is, ‘inciting to sensual desire or imagination,'” Second Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote in the decision about why the school could censor an independent student publication and the school’s student paper, which had attempted unsuccessfully to run the drawing in the first place.

The decision also said even though school’s paper, the Tattler, was a “limited public forum,” the cartoon could still be censored.

The Student Press Law Center reported in a May 18 article, “The Second  Circuit, however, distinguished between a ‘limited’ public forum and a ‘designated’ public forum, holding that a ‘limited’ forum newspaper remains subject to Hazelwood.”

If not reversed, that decision could damage student media forum status, but other courts could also ignore it as an aberration.

The First Amendment Center’s President, Ken Paulson,  said May 20 in a commentary (which also provides access to the student artwork), “the cartoon was censored because the school found it embarrassing, not because it would unleash the sexual imaginations of ninth graders. They can pretty much do that on their own.”

Paulson said images on the Internet and sexting expose students to far worse.

“In this environment,”Paulson wrote, “it seems a stretch to call anatomically vague stick figures ‘sexually explicit.'”

SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte said the decision was a misapplication of the law. “The court just fundamentally misunderstood what it means to be a limited public forum,” LoMonte said. “A forum where the government gets to pick and choose which cartoons it likes is meaningless.”

“All that this ruling really changes,” LoMonte said, “is that the term ‘limited public forum’ by itself apparently is going to be meaningless. And, as in Hazelwood itself, the court looked to the actual practice as well as what was on paper.”

If the adviser starts acting like the assignment editor, he said, it’s going to be held against the students, and a court is not going to recognize the paper as a true forum paper.

“You, the adviser, are ‘the state,'” LoMonte said, “and the more actively the state is involved in editorial decisions, the less likely the paper will be a forum regardless of what appears in the masthead and even in the policy manual.”

Simply calling student media “limited public forums” may no longer be enough, LoMonte said. In an email to the JEA listserv, LoMonte said any decent publications policy will have to go further than the “forum” buzzword and will have to enumerate with precision the exclusive grounds on which censorship is permissible. LoMonte has added additional information in a new post May 22.

For those who have “limited public forums” policies, or others concerned about maintaining their forum status, here are a couple suggestions:

• Look at your policy. If it just states you are a limited public forum, add or clarify language that explains what that means and how students make that the framework of professional standards. Look at model and state law language.
• Add or clarify language that shows how students will avoid unprotected speech and report accurately, thoroughly and in context.
• Add or clarify language that students make all final decisions of content and why that is important.

Although he warned JEA members the Ithaca decision could be the “worst legal setback” since Hazelwood, LoMonte also said it is such an outlandish overreach “it may become in New York, Vermont and Connecticut what Hosty v. Carter became for the college media in Illinois — the impetus for legislators to fix the law.”


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The best things to teach them

Posted by on Nov 29, 2009 in News | 0 comments


My Teaching High School Journalism course at Kent State is almost over for this semester, and I’m beginning to wonder if I have taught the right things to these education majors who may end up in media classrooms.

Sure, as usual I started with law, emphasizing unprotected speech and the stuff that can REALLY get student media in trouble. They learned about Tinker, Hazelwood, Bethel and Bong Hits and the impact these cases have. From there, we worked our way through ethical issues — the “SHOULD we?” that follows the “COULD we?” After all, without 70 percent on the law and ethics test, my students don’t pass the course. That stuff matters.

They figured out the difference between journalistic writing and “English-class writing,” and we practiced coaching and the maestro concept as we thought about how to package stories for an audience using good design and graphics. Yes, I tried to teach them everything I learned while earning my undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism education and from MANY years in the classroom.

But did I teach them to show their students the importance of caring? The need to cover stories that should be told, not just the ones that fall into their laps? Did I make sure they won’t be afraid to tell their students they have the right and even obligation to question authority? Did I make sure they know it’s not just a matter of filling the time on air or the space on a page? Did I teach them to help those in their classes stand up for their beliefs?

Will those in my course this semester become the kind of teachers who can support their student journalists and help them make a difference?

I’ll have a new group next semester. What do YOU think I should teach them? It’s only 15 weeks of class, but what MUST be part of their learning?

Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

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Links to important scholastic media court cases

Posted by on Sep 11, 2009 in Blog, Hazelwood, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


JEA members using the listserv this week were making a list of important scholastic media court cases. That list, or one like it, is on the Court cases page (see link at the top right of this page) – and with links to information about those cases.

We hope you will find these cases and links to them useful We also hope you will suggest other cases and links you found useful.

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