Our Right to Press Freedom

Painted on a wall in The Phillipian newsroom is a guiding mantra: Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy. Recently, an article in “The Hill,” detailed the suspension of a school newspaper after their release of a divisive investigative report on their school district’s transfer approval process. In light of this article, we realize that our ability to commit to our mantra and the value of press freedom it represents is indicative of the privilege we have in working for a school newspaper uniquely independent from its school.

The “Har-Ber Herald,” the official newspaper of Har-Ber High School in Springdale, Arkansas, began their investigation after several Varsity Football players transferred to a rival high school in late 2017. Although official reports cited that their transfers were for academic reasons, the “Herald” discovered that the students transferred in hopes of getting recruited for college, which violates district policy.

When the paper published their investigation on October 30 alongside an editorial criticizing their administration, the county deputy superintendent asked them to remove the story online, describing the article as “intentionally negative, demeaning, derogatory, hurtful and potentially harmful to the students addressed in those articles.” Further, the administration suspended the paper and threatened their faculty advisor with termination. The students’ requests to republish the article were denied until this past Wednesday, when the article was again made available online.

This case is just one in a series of disheartening events concerning the current state of press freedoms. As similar stories are forgotten in the wake of accelerating news cycles, it is important to address the roots of press suppression: a demoralized youth. With the potential for future contributions to the field of journalism, high school journalists should be empowered, not discouraged. But when, from their time in high school onward, students are expected to be deferential to or complacent with censorship, they are being conditioned to accept that their rights to free press and free expression are trivial when compared to the interests of the authorities that govern them.

Though “press freedom” is often associated with national newspapers and federal investigative journalism, it is important to recognize that student and local journalists are just as critical to keeping institutions accountable. In “The Har-Ber” case specifically, a newspaper based outside the school would have had neither the incentive nor the information necessary to investigate such a school-specific issue.

In being both financially and creatively independent from Andover, The Phillipian is able to avoid the kind of censorship that many student journalists and high school newspapers face across the country. At our Blueprint Conference in the fall, which invited neighboring schools and their newspapers to learn about and discuss press freedom, our peers shared with us that suppression of information occurs more often through social pressure, as their writers tend to fear the negative backlash an unpopular article might garner from their peers or administration. Our independence as a paper means we’re not as preoccupied with these concerns, as we can confidently place our trust in the freedom that our respectfully distant relationship with the administration grants us.

A newspaper’s ability to uphold a trustful relationship with its audience is dependent on its separation from any interfering body. Ideally, a student publication should be able to model the same national standard of truth-seeking. But when an overbearing administration forces its students to abandon their impartiality to cater to their institution’s interests, trust in the press is weakened before it has a foothold to build from. “Accuracy Accuracy Accuracy,” should not be our privilege, it should be our right.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXLI.