NPPA Supports The Cronkite New Voices Act

AUGUSTA, GA (May 12, 2016) – This morning the general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association expressed NPPA’s support for the Cronkite New Voices Act, which would protect student journalists and advisers from censorship.

NPPA’s leadership believes this is a very important issue, not only for students but for all future and present journalists, and asks members to contact Sen. Pearce and express your support for this measure.

Here is the letter NPPA’s lawyer Mickey H. Osterreicher sent today:

The Honorable David Pearce
201 W Capitol Ave., Rm. 227
Jefferson City, Missouri 65101

RE: Support for HB 2058

Dear Senator Pearce,
      I write to you on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) to express our support for the “Cronkite New Voices Act” (HB 2058) which would protect student journalists and advisers from censorship unless what they publish is, among other things: violates federal or state law, defamatory, or constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy. Moreover, that bill would effectively take precedence over a 1988 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which held that student journalists’ First Amendment rights were not violated when the high school principal prevented them from publishing articles containing objectionable material in the school newspaper.
      If passed, student journalists will be entitled to the free speech protections enunciated by the high court in 1967 in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, unless school officials can prove that the conduct in question would “materially and substantially interfere” with school operations.
      Such action by the legislature would have Missouri join with eight (8) other states rejecting Hazelwood and supporting student journalists’ First Amendment rights under Tinker. It would also continue the legislature’s positive stance after last year’s incident involving University of Missouri Professor Melissa Click’s interference with a photojournalist who is also a student NPPA member.  
      Given the negative attitudes and opinions of journalism today it is crucial that the next generation of reporters and photographers are afforded the proper education and experience to help them establish and maintain the high standards required to perform ethically and professionally so as to regain the public trust. But such outcomes will be stifled if school administrators are allowed to chill free speech and press rights by arbitrarily exercising prior restraint over student journalists, their advisors and publications.  
      Students and the public at large receive much of their information and misinformation through social media and the Internet. In order to better balance information provided by the “masses” on matters of public concern it is imperative that students be allowed to freely report on the issues that are important to them under the unfettered guidance of their advisors. Treating such subjects as the forbidden fruit by administrators will be a disincentive to nurturing meaningful discussion of social, political and other newsworthy issues.    
      It should be noted that HB 2058 does not provide the same degree of First Amendment protection to student journalists as held by the professional media. School administrators will still be able to oversee and address the work of student journalists that among other things, “creates a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act, the violation of school district policy, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.”
      As we have unfortunately seen, the climate of censorship enabled under Hazelwood in our elementary and high schools has created a generation of college students who adhere to the belief that the government is the ultimate arbiter of free speech and should be relied upon to silence those who express unpopular ideas or quash positions that create discomfort. This is antithetical to First Amendment tenents, supporting the expression of challenges to accepted beliefs.
      The idea of publicity as a cure for combatting social diseases under the glare of “sunlight” as the “best of disinfectants” was stated by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in his Whitney v. California opinion in 1927, when he wrote “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
      Therefore, we urge that you pass HB 2058 and let the sun shine over Missouri schools by a more enlightened approach to properly protecting the First Amendment activities of school sponsored media, student journalists and student media advisors.
      Thank you for your attention and consideration in this matter.
Very truly yours,
Mickey H. Osterreicher
Mickey H. Osterreicher
General Counsel