Allegheny’s fall semester no doubt yielded challenges to the Allegheny community almost from the start. Across the board from student government to the administration, things went wrong and the community had to, at times, start from scratch. After the arrest of former Allegheny English professor Kirk Nesset, the community forum sparked ripple effects that have already changed the campus climate and community. Student government had its ups and downs from a decreased budget, mass resignations and the increased student activities fee proposal that sparked great debate that will continue into this year.
The campus community was threatened via social media by a former student and that young man was arrested. And as we left for winter break, we heard that there is a federal complaint against our sexual assault policies. Allegheny had a tough semester.
In the midst of all of these breaking news headlines, your student newspaper also had a tough semester. Accusations of both libel and slander crossed our desk, which were both surprising and educational experiences. In addition, requests for censorship by our administration forced us take a step back and examine what the administration’s role is, if there exists any role at all, in the function of a student newspaper.
All of these circumstances forced the newspaper staff to realize that many community members, most importantly ourselves, needed to be educated about what exactly libel is, what slander is and what exactly our rights as a student newspaper on a college campus are. As leaders of this newspaper, we had the Student Press Law Center phone number almost memorized. But one thing was certain, with all of the breaking news headlines and difficulties we may have had, the reactions we received told us we were doing things right.
We thought the beginning of a new year would be an excellent opportunity to explain exactly what the difference between libel and slander is and why it is so important for an institution and society to defend the civil liberties that are offered to the press.
According to the SPLC, when a newspaper or publication is accused of libel, it means that they have been accused of publishing an article, image, symbol or anything that has been re-printed or broadcasted that is false and damaging to a person’s reputation. In order for libel to occur, four parts must be proven: 1. publication 2. identification 3. harm 4. fault. However, a true statement cannot be the basis of a libel claim. History shows, however, that libel claims have been very difficult and very rare to hold true.
However, while newspapers and magazines may be accused of writing or photographing libelous content, slander is defamatory content of a spoken manner, therefore recusing all publications from accusations of slander. Because libel is a form of defamation, slander is simply the spoken word of defamation.
Further, imposed censorship on a publication, such as an outside party stealing newspapers before distribution, has been ruled unconstitutional except in rare cases including matters of national security and during wartime.
While this may not seem like a common occurrence, having been on staff for four years, we can attest to this being a tool used in the past to limit the voice of The Campus. Stealing newspapers that are for sale is punishable by law and while The Campus is a free publication, it can still be a misdemeanor if the theft is done to suppress publication.
According to Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein on the SPLC website, “unless you break any rules or laws in how you choose to oppose censorship, it would be unlawful for an administrator (high school, college, or otherwise) to punish you for speaking out. That said, in most of the cases I’ve seen, the censorship was unlawful to begin with. So there’s a risk that your administrators will choose to break the law again and try to punish you for speaking out. Those cases are extremely rare, but they do happen, from time to time. And if that happens, you fight it as another form of censorship. It certainly makes for a better court case.”
Covering the Allegheny community is a passion each one of our staff members holds dear, and doing so in a professional manner is something we as editors can always guarantee. But a part of the journalism process is a two-way street: a knowledgeable consumer of the news is just as important to strong and professional journalism as a professional reporter is. We have appreciated the support we have had over the years, especially this year, from the administration and the Allegheny community around the country.
If there is ever a concern with the ethics of The Campus staff or our editorial decisions in why we run or do not run stories, feel free to contact us. We explicitly encourage the community to be more involved in the newspaper because simply put, we are your newspaper. We tell Allegheny’s story, and we’d love for you to be a part of it.
Amanda and I can be reached at:
Office phone: 814-332-5386