Our View: Bill protecting journalism advisers crucial to free press

-A +A
Honing young journalists' skills is critical to maintaining a healthy democracy. That's why protecting high school and college journalism advisers from punitive action from administrators is critical to maintaining a free press. Senate Bill 1370, introduced by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would protect journalism advisers from being punished or losing their jobs because of what students publish in their school newspapers. Students would still be held accountable for every word and picture published and subject to libel laws. But if an article that was critical of an administration policy were published, that administration could not threaten nor penalize the journalism adviser. Locally, area high schools and Sierra College are blessed with some fine journalism teachers. And local school newspapers have taken on some tough issues such as combating graffiti, gay student rights and more. Gold Country Printing, which belongs to the same group of companies as the Auburn Journal, is proud to print this newspaper along with several school papers including Placer High's Hillmen Messenger, Colfax High's Falcon Falcon Free Press and Golden Sierra's The Bear Facts. Local administrators have historically been pretty supportive of students' rights to a free press. But Rick Brown, Colfax High journalism adviser, did admit to Journal reporter Jenifer Gee that he has been ¦ called into the office a few times. Statewide, however, administrators have not been so supportive or open-minded. Jim Ewert, California Newspaper Publishers Association legal counsel, pointed out several examples of high school journalism advisers who have been unfairly punished for what their students have published. These include articles and editorials that: criticized random searches conducted on campus (South East High School, Los Angeles); reported on why 50 teachers' assistants were randomly reassigned in mid-semester disrupting classes all over campus (Irvington High School, Fremont); and explained why teachers were unavailable to help students (Rancho Los Alamitos High School, Garden Grove). Another article examined the contributions of African Americans during Black History month while simultaneously questioning why there needs to be a separate month to showcase one group when ˜American history should instead be more inclusive.' (San Marin High School, Novato), Ewert said. The California Newspaper Publishers Association supports the bill and has worked with Sen. Yee to get it introduced in the Legislature and hopefully signed into law. Since administrators are unable by law to exercise prior restraint with regard to a student publication, they lean on advisers to do what they legally cannot. Ewert said. When advisers refuse, administrators punish them knowing they face no legal consequences. SB 1370 is necessary to close this gaping loophole in the law. Senate Bill 1370 would legally protect journalism advisers, and help ensure a free press. Legislators should support SB 1370 and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should sign it into law.