An Open Letter to President Obama about World Press Freedom Day

The following is an open letter to President Obama about World Press Freedom Day. It’s from the Student Press Law Center. A list of its signatories follows.

On May 3, the United States will, for the first time, play host to World Press Freedom Day, an event that will focus an international spotlight on the state of press freedoms in our own country as well as abroad.

You and your administration, and in particular Secretary Clinton, have been commendably forceful in pressing foreign governments to remove the fetters from online communications that obstruct the free flow of ideas. As Secretary Clinton said in her February 15, 2011, address on Internet freedom at George Washington University: “Some take the view that, to encourage tolerance, some hateful ideas must be silenced by governments. We believe that efforts to curb the content of speech rarely succeed and often become an excuse to violate freedom of expression. Instead, as it has historically been proven time and time again, the better answer to offensive speech is more speech.”

Regrettably, the United States will lack the full moral authority to advocate for world press freedom so long as our laws fail to effectively protect the majority of the Americans who gather and report news each day: Those working for student media.

The values conveyed by journalism – attribution, verification, fairness, accountability – are the values that every young person needs as a citizen of the online world. Because the professional news media cannot be everywhere, our society needs candid reports from “embedded” student journalists to tell us what is going on inside of our schools.

Yet far from embracing the educational benefits of journalism, school after school has done just the opposite. Those bearing the brunt are America’s journalism teachers, the best of whom go to work every day certain that the question is when, not if, they will be fired in retaliation for what their students write.

A generation ago, the Supreme Court rolled back students’ First Amendment rights significantly in its Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier ruling. We have now 23 years of experience with Hazelwood – a generation of students from kindergarten through college – and it is undeniable that Hazelwood, having done nothing to improve student learning or school safety, is a failed experiment on America’s children.

American’s most vulnerable journalists need those who have spoken out so persuasively against censorship abroad to speak with that same forcefulness at home. We urge your administration to publicly acknowledge the unfinished work of press freedom in our own nation, to denounce the shameful practice of stifling candid discussion of school issues, and to ensure that this World Press Freedom Day concludes with a global commitment to protect the rights of all journalists, even the youngest.

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Copy Editors Society
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Asian American Journalists Association
Broadcast Education Association
Center for Scholastic Journalism, Kent State University
College Media Advisers, Inc.
The First Amendment Project
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Inc.
Illinois College Press Association
Illinois Community College Journalism Association
Inter American Press Association
Investigative News Network
IRE, Investigative Reporters & Editors, Inc.
Journalism Education Association
Mid-America Press Institute
National Association of Black Journalists
National Association of Hispanic Journalists
National Association of Science Writers, Inc.
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Federation of Press Women
National Press Photographers Association
National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association
National Newspaper Association
National Press Foundation
National Scholastic Press Association
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
National Youth Rights Association
The Poynter Institute
Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society
for High School Journalists
Religion Newswriters Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of American Business Editors & Writers
Society of Collegiate Journalists
Society of Environmental Journalists
Society of Professional Journalists
Society for Features Journalism
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University


Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the nation’s only legal assistance agency devoted exclusively to educating high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment and supporting the student news media in their struggle to cover important issues free from censorship. The National Society of Newspaper Columnists is proud to support its efforts.

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