High school censorship calls up again in 1999

Requests for legal help from student journalists, advisers increase slightly

VIRGINIA -- Censorship calls to the Student Press Law Center from public high school journalists rose more than 14 percent last year. According to the Center, 367 high school student journalists or their advisers contacted them in 1999 for legal help concerning a censorship matter. That number tops the previous high of 321 recorded during 1998, and marks the fifth straight annual increase.

Overall, in 1999 the SPLC staff responded to 1,624 requests from student journalists and their advisers seeking legal help, up only slightly from the 1,597 calls received the previous year. In addition, the Center responded to 445 requests from individuals seeking information only or from news media seeking comment on student press issues.

Once again, the SPLC received more legal questions (777) from public high school students than any other group. Questions about censorship topped the list of high school concerns (47 percent), followed by questions about libel/privacy law (23 percent) and copyright law (16 percent).

While high school calls were on the rise, the number of requests for legal help received from public and private college student media dropped slightly. (748 in 1999 compared to 791 in 1998). For the second year in a row, questions regarding public access to records and meetings, including campus crime information, (32 percent) topped the number of questions regarding censorship (26 percent) and libel/privacy law (19 percent). Legal assistance ranged from providing information over the telephone to drafting opinion letters to making referrals to local attorneys who are members of the Student Press Law Center's pro bono Attorney Referral Network.

Calls to the Student Press Law Center came from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five foreign countries. Callers from California (182 calls), New York (173), Texas (106), Missouri (97), Ohio (90), Illinois (80), Virginia (76), Pennsylvania (75), Michigan (73), and Florida (71) topped the list.

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the only national legal assistance agency and information clearinghouse devoted exclusively to protecting and educating the student press about their freedom of expression and freedom of information rights. The SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All legal services are provided to the student media free of charge.

Fall 2000, reports