Friday, December 2, 2011

It’s not about dodgeball or profanity or obscenity, it’s about student rights

By Heather Perry, Editor-in-Chief

When it comes to censorship, student newspapers will never win in the court of public opinion.

We’re not defending what we published. We’re defending our rights to decide our editorial content as student journalists.

That distinction should be recognized.

We’ve already lost our control over some of the advertising decisions due to a revision of the student handbook fall 2006 that restricts advertising on alcohol, guns, gambling, credit cards, etc. by all university-affiliated groups, organizations or publications.

It all comes down to what censorship actually means and common misperceptions I’ve countered through my experience as a student journalist.

Censorship refers to the suppression of published or broadcast material. If the university would implement a precedence of prior review, reviewing all content before publication; prior restraint, exercising control over content; and censorship, actually removing the content, as they did Nov. 2 by taking our entire landing page offline then nothing would prevent them from doing so in the future.

This means whatever the university deems unacceptable to publish they could restrict. That means anything. That means pieces that ran earlier this year may not have been published, such as the article on PLU-affiliated areas that allow alcohol, Garfield Book Company piece on their lack of profit, mold in South Hall, women’s soccer coach resigning, water bottle ban, tobacco-free policy and any other article that may possibly paint the university or its officials in a poor light.

If the university allowed prior restraint, we as student journalists would no longer be able to perform our watchdog responsibility in regards to the university to our best ability.

PLU has historically allowed student media to operate as an open forum, meaning we have decisions over our editorial content. That changed today.

We attend a private university and unless the community is willing to aid us to our efforts to explicitly state in places such as the student handbook that we are an open forum for student expression, our rights are in question.

Please consider that supporting censorship is not about saying you don’t want to see profanity in our newspaper. Supporting censorship means you support restricting the flow of information, which could prevent you from forming your own opinion on controversial topics.

And sad to say, this isn’t the first time I’ve defended my rights as a student journalist.

I did so in high school when the Puyallup School District imposed Regulation 3220R, which required principals to prior review all freedom of expression and allowed them to restrain any freedom of expression if we failed to comply with their requests for revisions.

At that time I was an editor for Rogers High School’s The Commoner, and I fought that battle along with my fellow editors from all three district high school publications. They’re still fighting that battle and I support them in all of their endeavors for student press rights.

These rights are not something to take lightly.