Free Press Fights Continue in Los Angeles, Illinois
Spring semester is now upon us, and a new set of free press fights are in bloom. First up: The Student Press Law Center has penned, signed, and sent a smackdown of a letter to the president of Los Angeles City College, outlining an array of dismaying administrative tactics aimed at controlling content in the Collegian student newspaper.
By far the most uggh-tastic incident among those listed: a stiff-arming of a student journalist covering one of the university’s public town hall meetings to sign a waiver permitting her to use her recording of the meeting.
The SPLC’s concerns about the “pattern of interference” follow the public squabble last September that erupted when LACC admins. sliced the Collegian‘s budget 40 percent allegedly because students “fought the institution’s president over press freedom.” (School officials ultimately settled for a 16 percent reduction.) My eyes literally widened with admiration at the wording of part of the SPLC letter: “Finding a First Amendment violation at LACC is like looking for a needle in a needle stack.”
Separately, a “coalition of journalism organizations” are publicly supporting j-students involved in Northwestern University’s famed and suddenly controversial Innocence Project (which investigates death row murder cases and occasionally sets a wrongfully convicted person free). As part of the case recently launched against the Project, the state attorney in Illinois wants the notes, recordings, and other materials from the students who worked on it. The journalism community’s response is that these students were acting in a journalistic capacity, regardless of the fact that they were still enrolled in school. This means two words: shield law.
Part of an SPLC friend of the court brief: “No matter how they are compensated and for what medium they write, when students perform reporting functions, they are entitled to protection against the compelled production of their newsgathering materials and fishing expeditions into their motives.”