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SPJ applauds California lawmakers for upholding a free campus press

For Immediate Release:

Christine Tatum, President, (303) 881-8702,
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927 -8000, ext. 211,

INDIANAPOLIS — Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists commend California lawmakers for voting 76-0 to include student journalists in protections afforded under the “Leonard Law.”

The “Leonard Law” protects student speech by making it illegal to enforce any rule on California’s college campuses that would punish a student for speech, that would be protected under the First Amendment or California’s Constitution (off school grounds.) The legislative history of the law states: "It is the intent of the Legislature that a student shall have the same right to exercise his or her right to free speech on campus as he or she enjoys when off campus."

In a resolution passed at its national convention in Chicago last week, the Society called for the signing of the bill, encouraged other states to follow suit, and urged colleges and universities nationwide to adopt the Society’s Campus Media Statement, which reads:

“Our student media are designated public forums and free from censorship and advance approval of content. Student media are free to develop editorial policies and news coverage with the understanding that students and student organizations speak only for themselves. Administrators, faculty, staff or other agents shall not consider the student media’s content when making decisions regarding the media’s funding.”

Assembly Bill No. 2581 was passed unanimously in both the Assembly and Senate before being signed by Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger on Aug. 28. The bill prohibits censorship of college newspapers and reporters by administrators, extending protections California already has for high schools.

“We rightly criticize politicians who curb free-press rights, so it follows that we should commend California lawmakers who recognize that student journalists have the same protections as their professional colleagues,” said Mead Loop, SPJ vice president for campus chapter affairs.

California lawmakers crafted and approved the bill in response to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stating that administrators could require student editors of a state university's newspaper to submit articles for prior review before the newspaper was published. SPJ, one of the nation's oldest and largest journalism advocacy organizations, urges other states to follow California's lead.

“Other governors and legislatures should follow the lead of Speaker Pro Tem Leland Yee of San Francisco, Assemblyman Joe Nation of Marin County and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,” said Al Cross, chairman of SPJ’s Resolutions Committee and a past national president. “The governor’s action and the overwhelming votes for the bill in the legislature are a clarion call for action in other states.”

The new California law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2007.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior.


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