Happy World Press Freedom Day!

Posted on May 3, 2011

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Courtesy of MCTCampus.com

In honor of the first ever World Press Freedom Day in the United States, I thought I’d share with the world the Tan & Cardinal staff editorial about the event.

For more information check out the Student Press Law Center’s WPFD page and their letter to President Obama.

The issue:

      The First Amendment is a microphone built right into the Constitution. It gives people the voice they deserve to have. Sometimes, though, there’s a kink in the wiring.

      One of the intentions of May 3’s World Press Freedom Day is to draw attention to this defect.

      Although this is the first time World Press Freedom Day is being celebrated in America, it has existed since 1993. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization designated the day to underscore the frequently violated rights of student journalists.

      Young journalists across the country are often denied information they have a right to. High school and college leaders try to control the content that is printed in school newspapers, almost as if we are kids who have heard a word we don’t know and our parents are saying to us, “We’ll tell you when you’re older.”

      Just because a newspaper is run by students doesn’t make it any less of a newspaper, and as a newspaper, it has certain rights.

Our stance:

      The point of college media is to prepare students for the real world, and in the real world, people must honor public records requests because of the laws behind them. However, it is not just a matter of law, it is a matter of public service.

      The point of the news is to tell the public what it needs to know, and this is the same at every level. But for some reason, student media faces resistance to this cause.

      For instance, take the case of the assault report in Davis Hall before spring break. We were told that under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which began in 1974, the disciplinary records of the student involved were protected and would not be given out.

      In another case, students in a journalism class were recently denied the record that shows how spending is distributed to varsity sports.

      Now, we could only assume that a professional news organization with its own lawyers would not have had such trouble getting this kind of information, which is frustrating to say the least, and it’s why we appreciate that World Press Freedom Day is finally being recognized in the United States.

      However, before we begin to sound accusatory, we want to make one point clear: This friction could simply be caused by a lack of understanding about the laws that are out there for public information. So, we’d like to clear up a few basic points.

Solutions:

      We don’t think everyone at Otterbein is out to get us. But perhaps not everyone here knows what information can be withheld. Here are some examples of the basic information that, as public records, students are entitled to, per the Student Press Law Center:

• Disciplinary records. During the 1990s, state courts in Ohio and Georgia ruled that disciplinary records were outside the reach of FERPA because they are not “educational” in nature.

• Crime reports. Schools cannot withhold crime reports from the public, even if the records are kept with a security office instead of a police office.

• Certain reports that pass through a campus disciplinary body. If the crime is a violent or sex crime that will be prosecuted criminally, it is not protected under FERPA.

• Some athletic program information. The Student Right-to-Know Act and NCAA regulations grant the rights to college and university reports about enrollment and graduation rates of student athletes. Also, the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act requires schools to make available annual reports that compare money spent on varsity programs for men versus women.

     Laws can be long and complicated, but they still need to be upheld. As student media, we take pride in our role as the voice of the campus, and we only want to be treated as professionally as we treat the people we deal with on a daily basis. Hopefully, this editorial is educational to those who read it, because through our research it was certainly educational to us. Have a happy World Press Freedom Day. t&c

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Posted in: My thoughts