Student press advocates have criticized Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey for vetoing legislation they say would have shown that Arizona supports the rights of student journalists who investigate shortcomings at their schools.
The measure would have shielded student journalists at public schools, community colleges and universities from administrative censorship of their work at school-sponsored media.
In a veto letter, the governor said he is a strong supporter of free speech and the First Amendment.
Yet Ducey said in the statement he worried “that this bill could create unintended consequences, especially on high school campuses where adult supervision and mentoring is most important.”
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, questioned what the bill’s opponents fear student journalists would write.
“Someone needs to ask the governor, ‘Do you really believe that students should be forbidden from criticizing their schools or advocating for a better quality education?’ That’s what’s the bill aims to protect and that’s the kind of speech that schools have habitually censored,” LoMonte said.
Paula Casey, executive director of the Arizona Newspapers Association, said students still would have had to answer to editors and advisers under the legislation.
Senate Bill 1384 would have directed school districts, community colleges and universities to create a written policy containing standards or guidelines for school-sponsored media.
The measure would have limited those guidelines’ restrictions to content that is libelous, invades personal privacy, violates federal or state law, or “materially and substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school.”
An amendment to the bill also required policies to prohibit lewd and obscene content and to include a student journalist code of ethics.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee, said the measure brought together school administrators, student journalists, teacher advisers, university deans and the Arizona School Boards Association.
“This was a piece of legislation that truly was a bipartisan effort,” Yee said.
Yee said the bill was personal to her because of her experience being censored as a high school journalist and cartoonist, and she later continued reporting through college. As a senior at Greenway High School in Phoenix in 1992, she testified before an Arizona Senate committee to support a similar measure.
Ducey’s spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said the governor believes school leaders, particularly in high schools, need to be able to supervise and mentor students.
“The ability exists under the current protections and the current law for student journalists to do investigations, to learn the craft, to express their First Amendment abilities and there are a lot of avenues to do that,” Scarpinato said.
“I think unfortunately this is going to send a very intimidating message to students and advisers that the state doesn’t have their backs,” LoMonte said.