Representative Elijah Haahr (R- Springfield) is sponsoring a bill that he hopes will protect student journalists’ free speech rights. His proposal aims to allow high school and college student journalists to report without fear of censorship by school officials.
Haahr said he didn’t sponsor the bill because of last fall’s protests at the University of Missouri.
Communications professor Melissa Click was caught on video asking for “some muscle” to block reporters’ access to protesters during anti-racism demonstrations.
“While I was looking at it (the bill), it happened to be just in the context of what was happening at the University of Missouri,” said Haahr. “It seemed like something that was both important and timely.”
The measure would restrict school officials from disciplining student journalists or controlling their activities outside of school.
Haahr’s bill would still give school officials authority when students try to publish libelous or slanderous material, invade privacy, violate laws or put the school in danger.
University of Missouri student journalist Tim Tai supports the bill. Tai was among a group of reporters near Click during the November protests.
“Student publications are probably the most crucial educational experience for people who want to be journalists,” said Tai. “How else are you going to get the experience and practical knowledge in clip examples of your work to get internships and jobs in journalism? The only way is to work for student publications and publications affiliated with schools. It’s absolutely vital.”
Frank Lamonte with the Student Press Law Center also supports the measure.
“When our phone rings, at the Student Press Law Center some 2,000 times a year, it is invariably not about libel, not about invasion of privacy, not about legal liability. It is about protecting the image of the school,” said Lamonte.
A House committee is expected to vote on the measure tomorrow.