On Sept. 30, 2017, Media Law Professor Patrick File and State Senator Nicole Cannizzaro received the Nevada Press Association’s First Amendment Champions Award for their support in SB420, a bill passed into law that will start to un-blur the lines between what student journalists can and can’t be censored on.
The bill that passed unanimously in the Senate is a law as of Oct. 1, 2017, opens the doors for student journalists in Nevada to freely publish controversial issues without fear of being censored by school administrators.
File, who advocated for the bill and organized a team of people to give testimony for the bill, is “surprised and flattered” to be given the First Amendment Champions Award, and hopes that it will shed light on Nevada’s future that the bill will bring.
“To me, the work is what’s important and the recognition is just something that comes with that,” he said. “Hopefully this bill can help to address things I consider to be serious deficits in civics education— things that have to start in schools.”
File said before this bill was drafted, journalism educators across the board noticed that student journalists shouldn’t operate under the standard set by Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier in 1989. This case set the precedent that school administrators can censor school-sponsored speech, like student media, if they can assert they have a legitimate purpose for doing so.
The precedent set by Hazelwood “doesn’t ensure that we have an active civic life among students as they aren’t encouraged to talk about the things they care about, that might be controversial and that affect their lives.”
File said the law is about stopping a “dark cloud” of censorship above student journalists, but also about improving civic education and empowering students to be engaged in their communities.
While the law caters to student journalists, administrators also favor it as there are said to be clearer standards set for what administrators can censor, and if there is a lack of clarity, the students will self-censor.
Safety at school and the educational environment would still be protected, as the law will follow by a similar standard that the 1969 Supreme Court decision Tinker V. Des Moines brings. This case set the precedent that students don’t leave their free speech rights at home when they go to school, but rather, the school acts as another space they can express their First Amendment rights.
The law that File was recognized for supporting doesn’t take away the authority that school administrators have, and it doesn’t allow student journalists the same standards as professional journalists. It does, however, clarify censorship standards for student journalists.
File said the current state of the country shows that people aren’t confident in media or democracy and the only way to change that is by being better educated and talking about uneasy subjects that affect lives.
While File is “grateful” for the award, he is also appreciative of the platform the award gives in furthering journalism education and student media as something to shed light on public concerns, no matter the level of comfortability.
“The best conversations in our schools come from discussing uncomfortable issues, and we need to be brave about doing so and not stepping away from those issues,” File said. “Student media ought to be the place that we have those conversations, it shouldn’t be whispered in hallways.”
For more information about SB420, click here.