California College Press Freedom Safe if Bill Passes Vote

(U-WIRE) CHICO, Calif. — College newspapers in California will soon have no fear of censorship if a new bill protecting press freedom is passed. The bill is the first in the nation to specifically forbid college newspaper censorship. It was written by Speaker Pro Tem Tom Leland Yee of San Francisco.

On May 2, the Assembly Committee on Higher Education approved the bill, and on May 11 it faced the Assembly Judiciary Committee. If approved, the entire Assembly will vote on it. If it passes and is signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, it will go into affect Jan. 1 said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s press secretary.

The bill was spurred by the Hosty v. Carter case in Illinois, which involved a student newspaper at Governors State University that printed articles critical of the administration. The administration then required all articles be submitted for approval before publication.

It was first ruled by the District Court that First Amendment rights had been violated, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court decision. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the students’ appeal.

“As soon as we got wind of that decision, we had a huge fear, as I’m sure college newspaper writers and editors did, that it would spread to California,” Keigwin said.

These fears were intensified when the General Counsel sent a memo to all California State University presidents that read, “The (Hosty) decision appears to signal that CSU campuses may have more latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidized student newspapers.”

Keigwin said that Yee and his staff were irritated college and university administrations haven’t shown more support for the measure.

Since 1992, high school papers have had censorship protection, so it makes no sense for college newspapers not to have the same, Keigwin said.

In November, President Paul Zingg wrote a letter to The Orion stating that as long as he is at Chico State neither he nor the administration will attempt to censor the paper. He hasn’t read the bill yet. But he has made his stance on college press freedom clear, he said in an e-mail.

“From the Hosty v. Carter matter in the fall and the theft of Orion papers this spring, I strongly support freedom of the press and condemn any attempts to abridge that essential freedom.”

The Orion’s adviser Glen Bleske said he was encouraged by the bill’s progress. Chico State is strong in its stance of anti-censorship, he said, but sends a message to all college administrators.

“It makes it clear where the line is drawn, and that’s good.”

The Assembly may vote on the bill as early as next week, according to a press release.