State Assembly member addresses bill to protect student’s right to free speech

A bill counteracting 2005’s Hosty decision was addressed during a press conference at Skyline College on Tuesday, April 18.

The conference was held to make aware and reassure students, faculty, and administration that California colleges are doing what they can to keep their freedom of speech protected. Among those supporting the bill (AB 2581), were California state assembly member Leland Yee, Jim Ewert of the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association (CNPA), San Francisco State University’s Golden Gate [X]press faculty adviser Rachele Kanigel, Reginald James, president of the Northern California region of the Journalism Association of Community Colleges (JACC), The Skyline View adviser Nancy Kaplan- Biegel, as well as other student journalists.

In June 2005, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that college newspapers can be subject to the same type of censorship as high school newspapers, so stated in 1987’s Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier case. Currently, the decision applies to schools and colleges in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

Aware that California is just as much susceptible to partaking in the practices of prior restraint, Speaker pro Tempore Leland Yee of the California Sate Assembly, as well as the Assembly Members Nation thought it fit to introduce a bill protecting student journalists and their work. According to Yee, the only possible opposition to his knowledge may be school administration.

Yee explained how UC administration has not been the biggest form of information when it comes to legislation.

“There has been a history, at least with the UC system, where people are not forth writing getting information,” Yee said. “And they may come up and argue the fact that we have a responsibility that the institution cannot somehow have an arm of [itself] give false information.”

Northern California JACC President Reginald James emphasized the importance of using media as a way to form checks and balances with the government. Reminding students and administration that this country was founded on a system of checks and balances, James pointed out the fact that as long as prior restraint exists, our checks and balance system is thrown off. He also highlighted the idea that a fear of the truth is initially driving prior restraint.

“The press is supposed to be the watch guard of the government,” James said. “Unfortunately, that’s not always happening in the mass media. However, that is the role it should serve to prevent corruption and abuse.”

The bill, which will be voted on in September, is majority vote required and is non urgent, although CNPA legal councilman Jim Ewert said if need be an urgency clause will be added to the proposal. An urgency clause, with Governor Schwarzenegger’s approval, will allow the bill to go into affect immediately.

Ewert also explained that students who don’t necessarily take interest in this bill, should. It has been written to protect all forms of media, aside from newspapers. Initially, anything that can get published, including term papers, can be affected or protected.

“You can’t distinguish between different media sources in any protection of the law,” Ewert said. “The constitution applies to all media sources across the board. This will protect even a blog.”

Golden Gate [X]Press adviser Rachele Kanigel wanted to encourage student journalists and readers or listeners alike to understand and get involved in this legislation.

“This is a very important legislation not just for the students working on these newspapers,” Kanigel said, “And not just for the people who will become professional journalists, but really for all the students in California who are entitled to a free press, and who are entitled to newspapers who tell the truth.”

Yee spoke about the importance of the bill and protecting democracy and freedom of speech, encouraging students to be aware that they can do something about their situations.

“It’s a really important bill for all of us who care about democracy,” Yee said, “And for those who care about educating the next generation.”