College publications deserve protection

Campus Times
March 16, 2001

cartoon by Isela Peña

In a country that encourages individuality by upholding every citizen's right to free speech, what would happen if that right were somehow taken away or perhaps not granted at all? Issues regarding censorship and prior restraint have always been at the forefront of ethical dilemmas in concerns about the media. But how can the media, whose job is to give a voice to the voiceless as well as to educate and inform, continue to be that voice if higher authorities, like government regulations and school authorities, attempt to silence this voice?

Freedom of the press for East Los Angeles College [ELAC] temporary lost its voice due to an incident that occurred last week. The incident, which resulted from an unintentional photograph taken of a bystander, who half an hour earlier witnessed a murder, was published in ELAC's Campus News publication. After the bystander voiced complaints about her safety being compromised because of the photograph, the dean of the college, who was acting as president at the time due to an absence of the college president, decided to pull the papers off the shelves within an hour of their distribution.

The Campus News became the center of controversy as prior restraint became more of a concern. No effort was made to inform the Campus News staff or its adviser, Silvia Rico-Sanchez, that the issue was going to be pulled. The witness, who was not the primary subject of the photograph or mentioned in the caption, probably would not have drawn any attention to herself had she not complained. Instead, her actions caused a "knee-jerk reaction" from the school, which resulted in the prior restraint of the publication.

"The job of the paper is to report the news to the campus, and let them make their own decisions," said Kim Mathews, photo editor of the Campus News in an email, and photographer of the "picture that started the whole mess."

Had the Campus News not been there to report the murder, the campus and the community would not have been informed. No other form of the media was there to report it, and so while staying well within journalistic expectations, the Campus News ran the article and photograph.

Efforts such as these should be complimented for their willingness to continue informing the general public, not condemned simply because the publication is produced by "students" and not professionals. If schools cannot hold their students to the expectations and standards of the professional world, then how can those same schools claim to be preparing them to ultimately become professionals?

College publications entail all of the same Constitutional rights that are granted to non-college publications, and as a result, should benefit and be protected by them.

"Schools and the public in general need to remember that even though a paper may be put out by students, we take the First Amendment and bringing the news to the public very seriously," said Mathews.

Although the Campus News issue was later released, it was done so because the administration had failed to contain the issue completely. Issues had circulated before administration had acted, and some issues were even stolen.

If efforts to uphold an individual's First Amendment right falls short of protecting college students, then where and when can potential journalists begin being the voice for the general public and be granted their constitutional rights? If the media cannot rely on its rights being protected by the government and the Constitution, then how can the general public expect the media to continue being their voice and their watchdog over the government? It is this exact system of "checks and balances" that needs to be upheld. Not only to protect the media, but to also protect the general public.