Students lobby for press freedom bill

High school and collegiate journalists from across Indiana are taking their grievances to the Indiana state legislature.

House Bill 1130 will require school corporations and state educational institutions to adopt policies that will protect student journalists.

The bill is a product of the New Voices of Indiana movement that “aims to protect student journalists from unfair and undemocratic censorship and punishment for telling stories about important political, social and educational issues.”

The bill also prohibits educational institutions from suppressing student media content unless it is deemed libelous or slanderous.

Director of the Indiana Collegiate Press Association (ICPA) Adam Maksl is leading the effort to pass the press freedom bill with the help of two groups of student journalists from across Indiana.

The advocacy group, consisting of five college and five high school journalists, serves to help craft the bill and generate support among stakeholders like the principals association and the teachers association.

The other group, the reporting group, is working on writing stories about it in their own publications and talking to local news organizations.

“This whole process is student led,” Maksl said. “We hope they tell their stories on reporting without the help of a press freedom law.”

Maksl said there are a lot of schools that have restrictive policies for student journalists.

“The best journalism programs operate from less restrictive environments,” he said. “It provides students an opportunity to learn from non-censored information. Audiences always benefit from the free press.”

There are two Supreme court cases that involve first amendment rights in public school.

The first one, Tinker v. Des Moines, ruled “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates.”

The Tinker case decided that first amendment rights could only be restricted if it became disruptive.

In the second case, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, the Supreme court ruled that a school could restrict the first amendment rights of a student if the school had “legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

Maksl said he hopes the bill will bring student press freedoms back to the Tinker standard.

“If you censor students while they are young they will accept that censorship later in life,” he said. ‘This isn’t going to be open season for student publications to publish libelous material.”

Rep. Edward Clere (R- District 72) is the author of the bill. Clere is a former student journalist and his wife, Amy Clere, was also a journalist.

“He was very interested in the bill because of his own interest in journalism,” Maksl said. “Also, he thought it would be a good educational experience.”

Sarah Loesch, a student journalist from the advocacy group, said that Clere has taught her more about the legislative process.

“One of the things that has really been pushed for us as students is that while we are lobbying and being the advocates of the bill itself, it’s also a huge learning experience for all of us,” she said.

Loesch, a senior journalism major, said as a student journalist, she has the responsibility of informing a community of people that might not be looking at issues outside of campus.

“I think there is some fear when you put the word ‘student’ in front of ‘journalist’, that we don’t understand what we’re doing or we don’t take it as seriously as someone who is already out in the professional world, but from what I’ve seen, I don’t think that is true,” she said. “We take a huge responsibility in what we do in making sure that it is truthful and well-informed and that we follow the ethics that all journalist attempt to follow.”

A hearing for the bill is set for Feb. 14. Members of the advocacy group will go before the Education committee to lobby for the bill.

Sarah Loesch is currently the Editor-in-Chief of The Shield.