Bill Would Protect College Newspapers

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Without debate, the state Senate on Thursday sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill that would make California the first state to prohibit college and university administrators from censoring student newspapers.

Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey) said the bill would give college journalists the same free-press rights as high school reporters and their professional colleagues. Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the measure, a spokeswoman said.

The bill came in response to a ruling last year by the U.S. 7th District Court of Appeals in Chicago. The court said administrators at Midwestern universities could review student articles before publication if their student-run newspapers were published under the auspices of the college.

The California Newspaper Publishers Assn. and free-speech advocates said college administrators might try to apply the ruling to campuses in other states. Bowen referred specifically to a memo from Christine Helwick, general counsel for the California State University system, suggesting that campus presidents may “have more latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidized student newspapers.”

In 1992, California adopted a law protecting high school students from censorship, except for material that is obscene, libelous or slanderous.