Updated: Student Press May Face Prior Approval at NEIU

College Media Matters joins College Freedom, FIRE, and Chicago Reader in questioning and decrying the proposed free speech and free press restrictions currently under consideration at Northeastern Illinois University.  The most disheartening part of the regulations for press lovers: a planned prior approval scheme encompassing all print newspapers and pamphlets appearing on campus.

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As John K. Wilson writes for College Freedom:

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NEIU officials propose to demand that any pamphlet or newspaper to be distributed on campus must receive their prior approval. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled for many decades that the notion of government “prior review” and “prior restraint” of publications is totally anathema to the notion of a free press. . . . By a strict reading of these rules, the student newspaper (and even official flyers from the administration) would have to wait a week until after it is published to be distributed.

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In an e-mail to CMM, Wilson graciously outlined the relevant parts of the document. The most troublesome portion, he pointed out: Page 3, C(1): “Students, faculty, and staff wishing to express themselves through demonstrations or events involving distribution/display of visual communications. . . . must first complete a reservations request form  . . . [and] must submit a a copy of all visual communications to be utilized.” On page 1, the distribution and display of visual communications is defined as “posting and/or handing out, signs, posters, flyers, newsletters, newspapers, photographs, and similar items.”

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As Wilson explains:

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It’s a little tricky unless you understand that the university considers the act of handing out a newspaper or a flyer to someone to be an “event.”  It’s not clear how the university defines leaving a pile of newspapers for people to take, if that’s posting or handing out or something else. But it’s very specific in covering newspapers and restricting the act of handing them out to people.

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It is nearing the year 2009.  NEIU administrators top New Year’s resolution should be: Respect students’ free press rights.  After all, the name of the student newspaper at the school is The Independent!

Comments
2 Responses to “Updated: Student Press May Face Prior Approval at NEIU”
  1. Bryan Murley says:

    I couldn’t find anywhere in the Reader article or FIRE or College Freedom where they mentioned “newspapers” specifically. Not that I agree with the policy, but they’d have a hard time pushing through prior review of student press given Illinois’ recently adopted College Press Freedom law“:

    The Illinois law makes student reporters and editors responsible for all content decisions – including decisions about advertising – and gives state schools immunity from being sued over material printed in campus media. It also protects media advisers from being “terminated, transferred, removed, otherwise disciplined, or retaliated against for refusing to suppress protected free expression rights of collegiate student journalists and of collegiate student editors.”

    Administrators may punish student journalists only for material that constitutes “harassment,
    threats, or intimidation, unless constitutionally protected, or for speech that is not constitutionally protected, including obscenity or incitement.”

  2. Bryan Murley says:

    That’s a clarification that’s worthwhile, but doesn’t address how the administration could possibly exercise prior review of the student newspaper in light of the College Press Freedom Act. The entire act is here.

    There is this paragraph:

    “Campus media” means any matter that is prepared, substantially written, published, or broadcast by students at State-sponsored institutions of higher learning, that is distributed or generally made available, either free of charge or for a fee, to members of the student body, and that is prepared under the direction of a student media adviser.

    and this paragraph:

    Section 10. Public forum. All campus media produced primarily by students at a State-sponsored institution of higher learning is a public forum for expression by the student journalists and editors at the particular institution. Campus media, whether campus-sponsored or noncampus-sponsored, is not subject to prior review by public officials of a State-sponsored institution of higher learning.

    NEIU is specifically listed as one of the state-supported schools in the bill as well.

    It seems to me that the requirement for preapproval of distribution in any form would constitute a “prior review” of the publication, and would be unacceptable.

    Regardless, the president of NEIU is exercising high ridiculousity in proposing this ignorant campus policy.

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