Press freedom vital

By Dale Righter

One of the most precious rights we have in our country is a free and independent press. Without it, we are at the mercy of government and authorities for our information. And, as we have learned time and again in America, government isn’t always the most reliable of institutions, especially when it comes to disseminating information.

Freedom of the press is a right we often take for granted. In many areas of the world, people have only access to government-based news outlets, and the inherent biases that come with official control. There is nothing more “American” than being able to turn on our TVs, or pick up our newspaper and read critical coverage of our government’s policies. That’s what makes America unique and keeps us free.

However, even in our country, authorities sometimes seek to regulate the press in ways that fly in the face of the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free and open press. College news outlets are often the subject of these attempts. On many occasions, overzealous university administrators have used various means to influence, intimidate and control the content of student press outlets, even ones that operate independently of university control.

Unfortunately, the courts have not always upheld a free and open college press. In a recent decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said college and university press outlets could be subjected to a high degree of oversight and control by administrators.

This decision undercuts the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press. That’s why I am a sponsor of Senate Bill 729, which seeks to prevent college press outlets from encountering censorship by the government and administration officials. Under my legislation, school officials would be forbidden from editing students’ articles that are contrary to the administration’s policies. The bill also allows students to take civil action if their opinions are being censored in the press. I urge every student to contact their legislators and encourage them to sponsor this important piece of legislation.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “The only security of all is in a free press.” He knew that the minute we allow government, or any authority, to start censoring the journalists who cover them, freedom for everybody becomes endangered. The only way we can ensure a free and accountable government is through a free and independent press. Senate Bill 729 is a good step toward protecting that independence on college campuses.

State Sen. Dale Righter

(R-Mattoon)