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The Antelope

The Antelope

The Antelope

Bill protects student journalists

The Antelope Newspaper

LB206 extends First Amendment rights

By: Elliot Gonnella

While it’s necessary to focus on national politics to ensure the survival of our democratic traditions, I feel as if too few are paying attention to local and state matters where decisions impact us faster and more profoundly than most actions on Capitol Hill.

Regional politics are not as popcorn munching worthy as national shenanigans, but important issues are decided at the state level every year. Local change comes through legislation, voter initiatives and pressure from advocacy groups. 

The Nebraska Legislative Bill 206 is a good example of the importance of state legislatures. The bill, with the goal to “protect free speech rights of student journalists and student media advisers” is a measure proposed by Lincoln representative Adam Morfeld of District 46. 

Student newspapers have too often fallen into an unsteady middle ground between being actual journalism and school sponsored self promotion. Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they step on campus, but there is often a possibility of greater restrictions than those of the professional world. Newspapers like The Antelope can and have published pieces that are critical of the school administration, but whenever I wrote such an article it felt like there was a dagger hanging over my head because the university is responsible for setting the newspaper budget.

To avoid a case like Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier (that established First Amendment restrictions on high school journalism), there are editors and media advisors who ensure that each story meets journalistic standards and that libel/defamation is not published. Even with these protections, we are still in a sense published with tax payer dollars and there is always a concern that the game of politics could reduce our funding.

This bill begins by separating the opinions and content of the newspaper from that of a school’s administration. School-sponsored media is considered a public forum regardless of where the funding comes from and student media should enjoy all the protections of professional media.

However, the bill does list common-sense exceptions to freedom of speech. 

Like professional journalists, the First Amendment doesn’t protect student journalists if they publish libelous material, invade privacy, violate federal or state law or incite violence.

The bill clearly defines a student journalist and media advisor for both collegiate and secondary educational settings.

The bill, which has not been revised since introduction, will be read before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee on Friday.

I support this bill because it gives the smallest presses and other forms of organized media clear protection and reasonable guidelines to follow. There are established expectations and protections for the journalists and advisers who follow those expectations. This piece of legislation will have a greater impact on my immediate future than whoever won the shutdown argument for the moment. 

It is an issue that I am active in, and it is being created by a state senator to affect the state. Part of being a dutiful citizen is actively following legislation to see what progress is being made, who supports/opposes the bill, and voicing your own support or opposition.

It is not the most entertaining thing to do, but when we are concerned about how our government is run today, it is the right thing to do.

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