Photo: Flickr / Travis Rigel Lukas Hornung CC by 2.0

A satirical student publication’s free speech rights may have been violated, court says

Student-run satirical publication, The Koala, will proceed with its lawsuit against the University of California San Diego now that the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court’s 2017 dismissal of the case.

The ruling is a victory for free speech and First Amendment advocates, and for student journalists on campus who had their budgets cut in an attempt to censor the controversial Koala

SPLC submitted an amicus brief in the case which was persuasive in helping to reinstate the case and help the issues of content-based censorship be reconsidered. The Koala has been rightly criticized for publishing racist, homophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic content. But dismissal of their case would have set a concerning precedent that schools can censor student-publications for purely content-based reasons. 

This decision is really a victory for the student press as an institution,” said David Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties in an
interview with UCSD student newspaper The Triton. “The principles at stake are not at all limited to The Koala or the kind of newspaper The Koala publishes.”

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SEJ announces environmental journalism student award winner 

This year, the Society of Environmental Journalists launched the Ray Reece "Excellence in Environmental Journalism" Student Award, recognizing published or broadcast journalism by undergraduate, graduate and high-school students.

The award was created as part of the
Year of the Student Journalist, organized by the Student Press Law Center and the Freedom Forum Institute/Newseum.

Read the winning submission "
Abandoned Mines" by Chris McCrory, Cronkite School of Journalism, Arizona State University, Phoenix.
More about the award

Q: I am the editor of a public high school yearbook. An advertiser — a local real estate agent — submitted a family photo as part of his ad. In it, he is holding a hunting rifle (we live in hunting country.) Given the many incidents of gun-related school violence I asked for a different photo, but he has refused and told me that I’m illegally censoring him and I must publish the ad he submitted. Is he right?

A: The big legal question is who made the decision to reject the ad? As long as only you (and perhaps other student staffers) made the decision to reject the ad, you’re fine. The First Amendment limits the authority of government officials/actors to censor. Students — unlike teachers, including your adviser, and other public school officials — are not government actors. When a government actor restricts content, it’s censorship. (It may end up being legal censorship, but it does raise First Amendment concerns.) When a student editor restricts/changes content (whether it involves firearms or anything else), it’s simply editing.

This issue has come before courts a couple of times, most significantly in a big federal case out of Massachusetts where a court upheld the right of high school student newspaper and yearbook editors to reject an “abstinence-only” ad submitted by a local activist. Before reaching that decision, however, the court carefully reviewed the decision-making process, making sure that the ultimate decision to reject the ad was, in fact, made by students.

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