When change needs to be made, pressure from the free press is a powerful catalyst. The ability of independent journalists to act as whistleblowers and watchdogs and to provide the public with urgent information so that members of a society can exercise personal agency — these are essential pillars of a healthy civilization, and oppressive oversight threatens their abilities to function as intended.
This statement should in no way be controversial, yet a bill to protect the First Amendment rights of student journalists died in the Indiana Senate on April 14. House Bill 1130 responds to a 1988 United States Supreme Court decision that allows school administrators to censor the news publications of high school and college students.
Stephen Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, explains the bill would have made it so school administrations “still have power, but they won’t be able to step in just because they think the story puts them in an unfavorable light or touches on a sensitive topic.”
The Editorial Board believes the rights of student journalists to publish stories that deserve the attention of the student body should be protected by laws that prioritize the education of the public over the reputation of the bodies that govern it.
Rep. Edward Clere, R-New Albany, who authored H.B. 1130, argues even students whose publications have good relationships with their administrations might tailor what they publish according to the expectations of or potential interventions from those administrations.
“We certainly have seen that there is self-censorship in places where it’s understood that certain topics are off limits or that certain stories will never be allowed,” Clere said.
Opposition to the bill arose from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, who, in citing an example of high school students in Kansas that exposed the faulty credentials of their principal, argued that H.B. 1130 might encourage students to feel like they could get their administrative staff fired.
The principal’s reputation should not have been more important than the students’ right to divulge the truth.
We share Clere’s opinion that McCormick misinterpreted the implications of the incident in Kansas, and her actions pose a serious danger to student journalists.
We want to tell you the truth. We will tell you the truth, but we deserve to have our right to publish that truth protected by the laws of our state government, and in failing to pass H.B. 1130, the government has failed us as well.
There are only two weeks remaining in the current legislative session. In order for the core tenets of H.B. 1130 to survive, language from the bill must be worked into another education bill before the session ends.
Although such a compromise is unlikely, the Editorial Board believes it is necessary.
We urge the senators and representatives of the Indiana state government to consider the consequences of their actions for the future of journalistic freedom, and we hope that they will choose to protect our right to say what you need to hear.