Society of Professional Journalists calls for FERPA reform, student press freedom

NEVADA -- The Society of Professional Journalists has publicly stated through unanimous resolutions its support of student privacy law reform and called for an end to college press censorship.

"I think these issues are arising more frequently and we probably need to be on the record that it's bad business and we oppose it," said Mac McKerral, former SPJ president and head of the organization's resolutions committee. "We have been trying to get the membership to develop more resolutions on what we think are substantive, important issues."

McKerral said there have been too many instances of administrators suggesting pre-publication review, questioning content or pressuring advisers. He said SPJ often creates task forces to talk with administration officials, but an overarching statement of support needed to be made.

SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chairman Dave Cuillier said the need for a resolution on student privacy came about several years ago when the Columbus Dispatch did an investigation on abuse of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Since that time, many journalists continue to have access problems.

"We want to make sure this issue stays alive because this is a huge problem," Cuillier said. "We are kind of tired of talk and whining. We want to see the law fixed."

Cuillier said the resolution is aimed at SPJ members, administrators, journalists and members of Congress -- "if any of them will read it."

"It's to let everyone know that journalists are fed up with the secrecy and the twisting of this law," Cuillier said.

However he acknowledged the shortcomings of the action.

"A resolution is nice and all, but it is the new ordinances and laws that make a difference," Cullier said. "I am not sure who reads [resolutions] and I am not sure what impact they have. I think they are really important within the membership and hopefully we can get it out there and maybe it will have some impact."

Western Kentucky University journalism professor Neil Ralston, who helped draft the censorship resolution, said it is important for students to know professional journalists nationally are supporting them.

"It'd been some time since SPJ had expressed its support in such a way and we thought it was time to do that again," Ralston said. "Censorship issues come at us from different directions both geographically and philosophically."

Ralston said in the past few years administrators have gotten creative with oppression, putting stress on students and administrators.

Ralston said one adviser was so excited with the censorship resolution, she told him she was going to frame it.

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