New Ill. law boosts college press freedoms

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has signed the College Campus Press Act, an anti-censorship bill providing greater freedoms of speech to college student journalists.

The new law (S.B. 0729) states that any campus media outlet “produced primarily by students at a state-sponsored institution of higher learning is a public forum for expression by the student journalists and editors.” According to the Student Press Law Center, the law effectively negates Hosty v. Carter, a 2005 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that allowed public university officials, like high school administrators, the prior review and restraint of student publications not designated “public forums.” Indiana and Wisconsin, the two other states within the 7th Circuit, are still under the Hosty judgment.

Introduced in February by state Sen. Susan Garrett, the bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly in June and was signed by Blagojevich on Aug. 31. It becomes effective in January 2008. Illinois is home to nine public universities and various public community colleges, with a total of six daily college newspapers.

Under the act, college student journalists in the state are responsible for all publication content, including advertisements. Media advisers cannot be fired or disciplined for refusing to suppress college journalists’ free expression. Also, state schools will have immunity from lawsuits arising against student media.

While protecting First Amendment freedoms, the new law does not defend those who publish harassing, threatening or intimidating material, “including obscenity and incitement.”

Similar bills have emerged in legislatures across the country. In July, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed House Bill 3279, the first state law protecting both high school and college student publications under the same statute. A Washington state bill (H.B. 1307) to protect student press freedom failed to earn a vote before the legislative session ended on April 13. A student-press bill awaits action in Michigan, where it has been referred to the education committee.

Six states currently offer full First Amendment protection to high school journalists in public schools: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts. California also provides freedom for the college press at both public and private institutions.

Lydia Hailman King is a University of Mississippi graduate with degrees in journalism, international studies and French.

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