Focus of World Press Freedom Day should be on future journalists


By Vince DeMiero

For the first time in the event’s history, World Press Freedom Day is being held in the United States. In 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed that each May 3 should be designated as World Press Freedom Day to “celebrate the fundamental principle of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.”

Unfortunately, those journalists most at risk of having their freedoms abridged in this country are student journalists. Earlier this month, the National Scholastic Press Association (Hawkeye is a member) along with the Student Press Law Center and 30-some other national and international organizations banded together to call attention to the plight of American student journalists. Most pointedly, these organizations purchased space in the Washington Post where they published an open letter to the Obama administration calling for immediate action with regard to the continual assault on student press rights in the United States.

In part the ad read: “Regrettably, the United States will lack the full moral authority to advocate for world press freedom so long as our laws fail to effectively protect the majority of the Americans who gather and report news each day: Those working for student media.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Thankfully, the Hawkeye has enjoyed a long, storied history of serving our audience as an open, public forum free from administrative or government oversight, prior review or prior restraint. Since its inception in the fall of 1960, the Hawkeye has been a true student publication, not the public relations arm of the school district. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in other public schools across the country, in the state of Washington, nor even in the Edmonds School District.

It’s 2011. It’s time we ensure the long-term health of our democracy by respecting the rights of those who would report on it for the benefit of all regardless of their age or level of experience. If we don’t, who will we trust to bring us the news of the day in the next generation? What lessons are we teaching tomorrow’s citizens by looking the other way when government and its agents suppress student voices?

And, in case you thought students don’t have the same rights as other journalists, we’ll gladly remind you of the Bill of Rights, the Washington state constitution and the Washington Administrative Code:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” ~ First Amendment to the United States Constitution

“Every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.” ~ Washington state Constitution, Article 1, Sec. 5

“All students possess the constitutional right to freedom of speech and press, the constitutional right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government and its representatives for a redress of grievances, the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion and to have their schools free from sectarian control or influence, subject to reasonable limitations upon the time, place, and manner of exercising such right.” ~ WAC 392-400-215, Sec. 2