A boost for student press

California colleges really benefit from two new laws recently signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The first, AB 2581, dubbed by some as the Hosty bill, specifically addresses colleges and universities and makes it illegal for college officials –presumably even newspaper advisers– to adopt rules that restrict student press freedom or seek to punish students for content in student publications.

The second, AB 2618, or the newspaper theft bill, would make it illegal to take more than twenty five copies of a freely distributed newspaper if done with the intent to recycle for cash or other payment; sell or barter the newspapers; deprive others of the ability to read or enjoy the newspaper; or harm a business competitor.

The first became necessary after the disastrous Hosty v. Carter decision that ruled that the 1989 Hazelwood v. Kulmeier rule applied to college press as well as high school press. Not in California it doesn’t! Actually, high schools here were protected even before Hazelwood. That’s not to say that high school papers don’t get censored or subjected to prior review all the time here. An ignorance of the law or an unwillingness to rock the boat and have newspapers disappear allows for both to happen.

And that could happen at the college level, as well. Already, just since the law was signed, at least two community college newspaper advisers have been pressured to subject their students’ publications to prior review. And some advisers perform ad hoc prior review on their papers anyway. Ummm, newspaper advisers are school officials, too. (See my views on this at my blog).

If college administrations try to test this by requiring advisers to proofread papers it’ll take a gutsy student to challenge it in court.

The newspaper theft bill was aimed at a wider press and just happens to include student newspapers, most of which are distributed without cost on college campuses. In many ways this is a bigger problem for the college press than administrative censorship. (College administrators, for the most lot, are not dumb; they know censorship is wrong.) Disgruntled readers often perform their own brand of censorship by removing newspapers from stands. And shoot, we even caught one person on our campus who saw nothing wrong with lifting entire bundles of the school paper and recycling them for cash.

The problem with this bill will be in getting campus police to pursue the crime. El Vaquero at Glendale College found that to be a problem last school year when campus police said that the college would end up prosecuting itself in a newspaper theft there and that just wasn’t going to happen.

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