Saturday, December 20, 2008

Limitations on freedom of press

The Faribault Daily News reported the school district shutting down the school (didn't mention which grades) paper due to the students refusing to give the superintendent prior review of an article about an investigation of a middle school teacher's potential inappropriate behavior.

No prior review? Are you kidding? What journalist for a commercial news outlet gets published/on-air without an editorial review? What if they were writing for the Star Tribune? The owners of the Strib are libel for irresponsible journalism. Who's libel for the school paper? The School a.k.a. The State. The students can’t legally claim sole responsibility for the paper. Editorial control rests with ownership. The students don't own it, the school board, and de facto the State of Minnesota does.

As with many other instances, a light touch is the best guidance. Shutting down the whole paper, rather than just one article getting pulled? That seems an unreasonable response.

If the article conforms to professional journalistic ethics/standards of practice - there is no reason it shouldn't be published. The cases cited by the Daily News are excellent examples of social bias censoring facts unpalatable to the local people.

First Amendment “rights” are not absolute. Slander/defamation is against the law - the unbridled freedom is only over that which is factually true. Pornography and profane language are protected under this amendment. Is that okay for high school students to publish? If your answer is no, you’re already limiting their freedom and possibly treading a slippery slope down to the Superintendent’s desk. There's no ethical difference between limitations. Whether it is disapproval about teenage sex or images of disembowled pigs in a slaughterhouse ... limitation is limitation.

Would the school district allow students to print content normally found in the City Pages or the Daily Minnesotan (U of M's student paper)? I'm pretty sure not - not due to the story content, per se, but rather due to the language choice and visual content. Sex might help distribution, but I wouldn't approve of my school board publishing it. God, you wouldn't believe the sex-advice column the U's paper runs.

My biggest question, in considering this: The Faribault paper didn't mention if this was a one-off problem - was this request for prior-approval unique to this story?

If the Superintendent realized there was going to be a story with potentially big ramifications (this sounds like it was) .. then I would expect him to want to review it prior to its publication, even if he didn't do so on a regular basis. Has anyone seen the article in question?

I can't get my knickers in a twist over this, without the School actually shooting down the article after seeing it.

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