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Newly proposed bill could protect student journalists

March 23, 2016

Bill 848 aims to educate and aid young journalists about subjects such as censorship and their First Amendment rights.

Michigan State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) introduced the bill to the Senate on March 8. Since its introduction, the bill was passed unaminiously in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will move on to the Senate floor.

Bill 848 enacts school’s officials cannot restrain the expression of school-sponsored media.

Schools' officials may only intervene if the subject material falls under specific conditions such as slanderous, libelous, unwarranted invasion of privacy, violates a state or federal law and if the material could incite dangerous behavior.

Additionally, the bill would protect students by not allowing schools officials to dismiss a student journalist or media adviser for the content of a student’s expression.

“We want to make sure that it’s really clear what student journalists can publish and can’t publish,” Michigan Interscholastic Press Association, or MIPA, executive director and MSU journalism professor Jeremy Steele said.

Steele said the bill would help clarify the rights of both the journalism students and advisers. It would put together a list of where school officials can step in. Currently, there is a gray area in terms of legislation that causes confusion about roles of both.

He added MIPA advocated for the introduction of the bill.

“A lot of guys are afraid to say anything negative or say how they truly feel,” journalism sophomore Zach Barnes said.

Barnes said he works at Impact 89FM and can sometimes feel the wave of censorship when deciding what content to publish.

“I think you should be able to have an opinion or ask the questions you feel are important to your story,” Barnes said.

Steele said the group who pushed for the legislation to get introduced was inspired by a group of college students in North Dakota who drafted a bill on the subject and had it pass in the state.

“I think it is important that journalists who are in high school have the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights,” MSU journalism professor Sue Carter said.

Eight states have similar protective bills enacted in the states. About six states have legislation being introduced or close to introduction, Steele said.

“Understanding the ethical responsibilities that come with the First Amendment is important and ought to be encouraged at both the high school and collegiate level,” Carter said.

Carter said education is essential so students can know and exercise their rights.

“What this bill does is try to balance the responsibilities that school officials have to make sure that students are safe,” Steele said.

Steele said it’s important to make sure students are engaged citizens.

“At MIPA, we definitely see the need for legislation like this and we see the benefits every day from the students who participate in journalism activities, whether it’s in high schools or colleges and universities across the state,” Steele said.

Editor’s note: Jeremy Steele is a member of The State News Board of Directors.

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