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Student journalists’ rights would be more protected under Arizona bill

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PHOENIX — The full Arizona House gave initial approval Thursday to amended legislation that would give high school and college-level journalists across Arizona further protections from censorship by administrators for their school-sponsored media work.

Sponsor Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee has fought for broader student journalism protections since her senior year at Greenway High School in Phoenix in 1992.

Yee testified before an Arizona Senate committee supporting a similar measure that also would have broadened press freedom protections for student journalists.

Senate Bill 1384 would safeguard First Amendment protections for student journalists at public schools, community colleges, and universities who contribute to their school’s publications.

Yee has said she does not think that students should have to self-edit their journalism work. The Senate majority leader was a student journalist and cartoonist herself, and has recalled seeing administrators repeatedly censor her high school’s paper.

The House approved the bill on a voice vote and it awaits a formal House vote. The Senate unanimously approved the measure in February.

Democrat Rep. Ken Clark said journalism is an incredible teaching tool for students.

“And I don’t believe that you can fully teach students who are trying to learn how to be responsible journalists unless you respect the First Amendment,” Clark said.

The measure instructs each school district, community college and university to create a written policy containing standards or guidelines for its school-sponsored media.

But the bill limits the guidelines’ restrictions to content that is libelous, invades personal privacy, violates federal or state law, or “materially and substantially disrupts the orderly operation” of the school.

The measure would also prohibit discipline against students who exercise their speech or press freedoms, or student media advisers acting to protect students doing so.

Republican Rep. David Stringer urged legislators to oppose the bill and said it would lead to severe unintended consequences.

“School newspapers in our local schools, particularly high schools, are supported by the taxpayers,” Stringer said. “The school authorities need to have some control over the content of what goes into a student newspaper.”

An amendment by Republican Rep. Anthony Kern requires school-sponsored media entities’ written policies to also prohibit lewd and obscene content and include a student journalist code of ethics.

A committee amendment would only allow public schools to take prior restraint on school-sponsored media content. But administrators would have “the burden of providing lawful justification without undue delay.”

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