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Censorship concerns journalists

Hannah Lutz

November 22, 2019

According to ditcionary.com, the definition of a censor is “an official who examines written and broadcast material for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds.”

            Recently, the Cadet Courier staff experienced censorship because of an opinion article in October. Since this incident, WPBHS Principal Daniel Weddle has to approve everything that is published in the paper.

Weddle commented, “When the program was reinstated last year, I should have had students share their stories before publication. The intent is not to prevent students from voicing their opinion, but rather so I know what is going out to the public.”

Journalism instructor Kathy Mahannah said, “In the past, we have had to submit stories for approval before publication. Even though the submissions have never resulted in a story’s being squashed, it could happen.”

She added, “I am an instructor who believes students should be allowed to voice their opinions even if they are controversial or offensive to some people. That forces writers to defend their position, and it is important that students learn to fight for what they believe.”

Censorship and the fight to avoid it is nothing new to high school journalism.

Beginning in 2015, the Nebraska High School Press Association started working on a bill to protect student journalists and their rights. Committee members at the time were Nebraska County Management Association President David Swartzlander, Doane University; Max McElwain, Communication Arts Department Wayne State College; and NCMA Executive Director Michael D. Kennedy, Chadron State College.

In the summer of 2015, Kennedy met with former Senator, Al Davis, who said he’d construct a bill and present it to NCMA. In 2016, Davis had put the finishing touches on LB885 and introduced it to the Judiciary committee Feb 26. The committee voted 8-0 to move the bill to the floor. However, due to a short session, the bill was indefinitely postponed.

In summer of 2016, Kennedy contacted Michelle Hassler, an executive director of the Nebraska Press Association. Numerous advisors from NCMA and NHSPA met at UNL to create a plan. 

The NCMA committee spent the second half of 2016 brainstorming more protections for advisors and journalists. However, they were forced to find a new sponsor due to the old sponsor’s losing his re-election bid.

In 2017, Senator Adam Morfeld said he would sponsor the bill. Kennedy met with him in July. 

Meanwhile, Hilary DeVoss, a former high school media teacher and student media adviser in Omaha, and Angie Wolfe, a current high school media teacher and student media advisor of Omaha Burke High School, began working together to gather high school students and advisors to testify on behalf of the bill.

  Alterations were made, and in 2018, Morfeld introduced LB886, the Student Journalism Protection Act.

 The Judiciary Committee scheduled its public hearing for Feb. 8. There were five bills already scheduled to be presented to the committee that day. The hearings were scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. with LB886 to be presented between 2:00-3:00.

The committee later moved LB886 last which resulted in a later start time at 5p.m. Even though the day had already started to unfold, the 25-plus high school and college students along with their advisors, remained hopeful and stayed to testify. 

Due to other commitments, four of the eight committee members left at 5p.m. Although the remaining four committee members were in favor of the bill and impressed by the willingness of the students to stay all day, no action was taken and the bill was IPPd. 

Because of the impression the students’ testimonies left on the committee, the bill carried over into 2019. Senator Morfeld introduced LB206, the Student Journalism Protection Act, again to the Judiciary committee on Jan. 11. 

The committee then conducted its public hearing Friday, Feb 1. Yet again, they were scheduled third and placed last. The hearing started at 4 p.m. and was finished by 5 p.m.

 One of the most impressive things to the committee was that students and advisors came from all parts of the state- Omaha/Lincoln, to mid-state schools in Hastings and North Platte, to western Nebraska schools in Scottsbluff and Chadron. The most impressive part to the committee was the distance the advisors traveled. Some advisors traveled one hour while others traveled seven hours.  

Through one of DeVoss’s connections, Kathy Kuhlmeier Frey of Springfield MO, and of the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case, testified on behalf of the bill. Hadar Harris from the Student Press Law Center, also testified. On Feb 22, the committee voted unanimously to move the bill out of committee. 

Despite the positive outcome, LB206 is not a law. 

Wolfe, said she,” really believes in this bill and what it can do for students.” 

In Journalism, we write about what’s going on. Not everything in life is rainbows and butterflies and not everything in high school is positive. Our stories are going to have conflict because high school can involve conflict.

 Students and teachers throughout Nebraska are getting in trouble for printing the truth. Administrative oversight has increased, but LB206 would end that. We as students need a platform to voice our opinions, and writing has always been that platform. Unfortunately, now we have to revise our own opinions. 

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