SPJ condemns censorship of Wyoming newspapers
For immediate release
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, (304) 367-4864,
Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists condemns a Wyoming court for issuing a restraining order against the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Herald. The order censors and violates the freedoms of the Wyoming press.
A motion for a temporary restraining order was filed against the newspapers earlier this month by Laramie County Community College in an attempt to prevent the papers from publishing a story about LCCC President Darrel Hammon’s conduct on a 2008 student trip to Costa Rica. On May 21, District Judge Peter Arnold granted the motion which bars the papers from publishing the information for at least 10 days. According to The Associated Press, Arnold made the decision on the grounds that the report was improperly received by the publications and that releasing the report could lead to a cut in federal grant money to LCCC.
The college was concerned the report, if published, would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which protects the privacy of students and parents by keeping education records confidential. Educational institutions are threatened with losing federal funding for FERPA violations. However, the papers guaranteed their news accounts would not reveal student information and would rather focus on the actions of President Hammon, whose information is not private or protected by FERPA.
"How a judge can believe that a greater public good is accomplished by withholding this information is baffling to SPJ and its more than 8,000 members,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said. “This is a clear violation of press rights, and SPJ stands behind the Wyoming papers in their attempts to present the truth."
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle has asked the judge to dissolve the order.
Prior restraint of the two newspapers is unconstitutional and a violation of their First Amendment rights. The report from the taxpayer-funded school contains information that is pertinent to citizens and should be made public.
Before the restraining order was issued, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle planned to run the story without student names. Now, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and the Cheyenne Herald are both silenced. SPJ supports the staff of the newspapers and their continued dedication to the First Amendment and upholding the public’s right to know.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.