Free Speech Bill For Student Journalists Gets A Little Bit Better

“I’m not sure there’s a bill before the Legislature this session that I dislike more than HB1471.”

That’s what I wrote earlier this week, and my reason for writing it is that I think the 1st amendment is a universal right. I look at HB1471, which is aimed at protecting the free speech rights of campus journalists, and I see it watering down 1st amendment rights by narrowly defining who the law applies to.

The supporters of the bill assure me that other law and existing legal precedent protects the free speech of other students, and that this legislation is justified because the free speech rights of student journalists has been eroded.

Maybe so, but the legislation did not include independent journalists (bloggers and other people working on their own). Now, in an amendment intended specifically to address my objections, the bill includes independent journalists in its definition (amended version of the bill here):

“An institution may not sanction a student operating as an independent journalist.”

That’s better, I suppose, but I’m still not enthusiastic about any legislation addressing 1st amendment rights which is any more complicated than a simple declaration that free speech is a universal right which is enjoyed by all Americans.

But at least this bill, which is likely to pass, will recognize that a journalist isn’t just someone who works for a traditional media outlet.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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