New frontline in war on freedom of speech

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EL PASO, Texas — College campuses are and should be considered a utopia for students, faculty and staff to make their voices heard, whether espousing new ideas or protesting against the injustices of the world. Recent events at universities across the nation make it painfully clear this is no longer true.

A significant case of censorship in college media recently occurred with the firing of an advisor at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s student newspaper, the CU Independent. After being fired from her position, Amy Herdy claimed the reason behind her dismissal was retaliation for her attempts to defend her students from hassles they were receiving from faculty after stories were published in the paper.

Herdy also said that Paul Voakes, dean of UC-Boulder, requested that the advisor provide him with notification if the student newspaper planned to run anything that the university may deem to be controversial. According to Herdy, when she refused to inform university officials about any material being published, she was fired for “business reasons.”

In California, the national awarding-winning student publication, The Southwestern College Sun, was forced to halt production during a critical election period, when a 20-year-old policy was suddenly enforced on the newspaper. The temporary closure of the newspaper came days before three board members faced reelection. University officials said that the only reason for the shutdown of the paper was due to the recent discovery that the paper was in violation of a purchasing policy.

Unfortunately, top university officials are not the only ones trying to censor college media. At a community college in Rhode Island, the school’s Student Government Association locked the staff of The Unfiltered Lens out of their offices. The chief executor of the newspaper claimed the Student Government Association president made an offer that in exchange for positive coverage from the paper; they would give them back their office space.

If the process of censorship begins at the university level, when future journalists are just beginning to learn about the craft, what kind of journalists will these universities be producing? Anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper instantly knows that journalists are not the most-liked professionals in the world, but they are vital to society for keeping an eye on those in positions of power, getting true and correct information to the public and giving a voice to the voiceless.

This was proven in the early 1970s when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigative journalism brought down President Richard Nixon. The two Washington Post reporters’ in-depth investigation helped expose the illegal activities of the president’s administration during the Watergate scandal.

The most important issue for any media outlet, whether professional or collegiate, is freedom of speech. For the most part, the frontline of the battle for freedom of the press is usually defended by the major news organizations. A perfect and one of the most important examples of a major newspaper fighting for the First Amendment was in 1971 when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers.

After the first article ran in the New York Times, the U.S. government filed an injunction to prevent any further stories from being published to maintain the secrecy of government information. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the First Amendment did protect the New York Times’ right to print said materials. The ruling made it possible for newspapers to publish information that is significant to citizens’ understanding of their government’s policies.

While it may sound like I am making myself and other journalists out to be martyrs of the modern world, I am not. Like most other students working at their student newspaper, I have learned more about journalism at The Prospector than in any of the journalism classes I have taken. But that’s a whole different editorial in and of itself. As the two examples above show, the role of journalism is vital in a society to keep the leaders of the world in check and expose the wrong doings of those in power.

The point is that the best experience a journalism student can get is to work at a real news publication, and that is what all college newspapers should strive to offer students.

If unwarranted and heavy-handed censorship from any source takes place at any campus newspaper, then that university, and society as a whole, needs to stop and think about what kind of journalists they will ultimately produce.

Even today, with the overabundance of information available, journalism still matters. The future and fate of journalism is a topic of heated discussion among professional and college journalists.

In Charlie Beckett’s book, “Super Media: Saving Journalism,” he details that we must save journalism so that journalism can save the world. “Journalism has never been more necessary to the functioning of our lives as individuals and societies and for the healthy functioning of global social, economic, and political relationships.”

University officials should encourage their student journalists to explore key issues surrounding the campus and not try to hide or ignore the facts. The last thing anyone should do to emerging reporters is use fear tactics to intimidate them.

If universities want to produce the next Woodward or Bernstein, they must embrace and encourage the work of their students.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally publish on The Prospector

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  1. Roberto Perezdiaz
    Roberto Perezdiaz on

    It is the duplicity of university authorities in an attempt to silence UC Berkeley students who were protesting against racism around East Bay communities including the Oakland Tribune that set the back ground and exposed the university president Clark Kerr and the university regents’ complicity with that newspaper’s owner. Consequently a crack down on campus organizing of protest marches and demonstrations against racists businesses and institutions around the campus that forged the FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT in the mid 1960s. When the the exercise of your rights is denied there are no rights.

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