Arkansas needs New Voices

New Voices Law needed to protect student media from censorship


Amelia Southern

Student newspapers around Arkansas still face censorship despite special protections.

Laney Hoggatt, Co Editor-in-Chief

In the United States Constitution, only one career is given special protections: the field of journalism. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The Constitution protects US citizens from government infringement upon their speech and gives special protections to guarantee a free press. An uncensored press is necessary to provide people with information on what is occurring in their states, country and the world without the fear of governmental influence. Similarly, student publications like newspapers, yearbooks, literary magazines, films and TV productions were made not only to teach students more about the press and provide classes for aspiring journalists but to allow students to use their voices to keep the powers that be in check even before they can legally vote. While high school students are protected from some censorship, their voices are still at risk from school boards and administrative teams. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker vs Des Moines that public high school students and teachers still have their constitutional rights even while on school grounds; however, in 1988, the supreme court ruled in Hazelwood vs Kuhlmeier that the school had authority to censor student publications to some point. The problem is that some schools tend to excessively censor student publications.

Fourteen states, including Arkansas, have implemented the Student Publications Act which states that students are protected from administration restrictions and punishment for posting a controversial story as long as it is fair, just and accurate. There is an addition to this act called the New Voices Law which protects both public and private colleges from censorship who currently have no protection and protects advisers from being punished or fired for allowing students to publish controversial stories. Currently, only five states have established this law.

Arkansas is one of the 14 states that have the Student Publications Act. While it makes a significant impact, I do not believe it provides enough protection to student publications. Students are protected, but the newspaper advisors are not. This lack of protection caused an issue with the situation at Har-Ber High School. Har-Ber wrote a controversial article about the transfer of five starters to Springdale High School. The Springdale School District requested the school newspaper take the articles down, which is not allowed in the Student Publications Act, but the paper obliged. The principal then stated that the paper was suspended until further notice and if they published anything, their advisor would be fired. This sadly is allowed by law because it is where the act’s protection ends.

Arkansas needs to adopt the New Voices Law because it provides much-needed protection that is not provided by the current act. Over my four years of learning about journalism and practicing it, I had had three advisors. Each pushed me to write the truth even if it would cause some controversy. They always said they encouraged it because a good journalist should and has the right to publish the truth. Luckily for me, neither of the three advisors faced threats from the school but they could and could lose their jobs because they encouraged me to write the truth.

In the Har-Ber situation, the school could have fired the newspaper adviser, a form of censorship which is both reprehensible and legal under the current law, simply because she encouraged her students to publish an article allowed under both the act and first amendment. Because of this potential for coercion, Arkansas needs additional legal protection for advisers. Teachers should not be punished, reassigned or fired for being just for pushing their students to follow the law. The Har-Ber situation shows that schools can threaten to fire the adviser was because of a controversial story even when the article is fair and accurate.

Some argue that the New Voices Law would cause students to not fact check their information and ‘fake news’ would be encouraged because it was interesting instead of the truth.

“We’re trying to make the school look the same way as these people that write about the fake news on a daily basis.” Republican Illinois State Representative Robert Morris said to the Student Press Law Center. “I’ve had a handful of reporters write stories about me, and I wish they’d write more stories about the good things I do. And folks, I sure wish I could teach that journalism class because I could have a lot of good stories coming out of there.”

Republican Illinois State Representative, Wendy McNamara, said to the Student Press Law Center that students should not receive full constitutional rights because they “lack the basic brain development that they need.” This is completely unconstitutional because nowhere in the Constitution does it state that citizens must be a certain age to receive their full rights. The only time an age restriction is mentioned in the Constitution is the requirements to run for office. They also argue that it would take away the principal’s power and give it to the school publications. While there is a worry that the schools would have no control and that stories would not be factual, the act allows schools to set rules and regulations for the publications and also request the right to review before publishing. It also allows schools to deny an article’s publication or have it taken down if it can be proved that it is inaccurate or is unnecessarily malicious.

Journalism classes allow students to test possible interest in journalism. These classes are creating future journalist. If we silence them now, they might fear to speak out the truth on controversial issues in the future. We need brave journalists that are able to write the truth or else the nation will not be aware of issues. An uninformed nation is dangerous because it allows corrupt politicians to manipulate the public into believing or not believing anything.

The first amendment states that as U.S. citizens, we have a right to free speech and the right to free press. Obviously, this should be upheld unless the said free speech hurts another person or group. In a time where the president pushes people to distrust the media and its “fake news,” free speech is more important than ever before. The press is expected to be free of bias and show both sides and most credible news sites do that.

As a student journalist, the expectations are the same. We are expected to spread the truth and remain unbiased unless writing an opinion piece. Although we are protected by the first amendment, student journalists have some restrictions since we are minors and are publishing under the school’s newspaper.

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