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Tuesday, October 20, 1998
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 41

Free Speech?

Letters to the Editor

About the Cougar

Staff Editorial


John Harp                Lisa M. Chmiola 
Michelle Norton     Jim Parsons 

  A right to the news

 In the central United States, a group of student press advocates are trying to reverse a court ruling that tramples on the free-press rights of student publications.

 A coalition formed of every major national organization of college journalism educators, led by the Arlington, Va., based Student Press Law Center, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking it to reverse a lower court decision that allows universities to censor their student media outlets.

 The lower court's ruling is based on the 1988 Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlemeir Supreme Court case, which limited the constitutional freedoms accorded school-sponsored high school publications by ruling that the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of free speech, does not require schools to support certain types of student speech.

 Although that case is a decade behind us, its repercussions may still be felt today. In the Hazelwood ruling, the Court did not mention the protection given college media, saying, "We need not now decide whether the same degree of difference ... is appropriate ... at the college and university level."

 Fast-forward to the present, in which a Kentucky federal district court applied the Hazelwood standard to college publications Nov. 14, 1997. The case concerns the former student editor of the Kentucky State University yearbook, who sued school officials for refusing to distribute the 1994 volume of the book, attempting to control the student newspaper and removing the school's publications adviser.

 Students said a university official objected to content in the newspaper that reflected negatively on the school and temporarily removed the paper's adviser from her position because she refused to censor the publication's content. Also, the same official was accused of refusing to distribute the annual because she objected to its content.

 Judge Joseph M. Hood, in his opinion on the Kincaid vs, Gibson case, said university officials have the right to exercise "reasonable" control over student publications. It is a dangerous ruling, and one that should be reversed as soon as possible. Otherwise, cases of college media censorship could not only be permitted, but encouraged under the law.

 Such attempted control of the news in order to project a certain picture of a university is wrong and should never be promoted by our nation's courts. Whether readers agree with what student media says or not, it is the students' constitutional right to express their views -- and to accurately report the news.

 After all, we live in a democracy, not a dictatorship.


The staff editorials reflect the opinion of The Daily Cougar editorial board and editorial staff. All other opinions, letters, commentaries and cartoons reflect the viewpoint of the writers. Letters to the editor reflect only the opinion of the individual writers. No opinions expressed in The Daily Cougar necessarily reflect those of the University of Houston administration or the student body at large.


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