Freedom of press benefits all

By Erica Fatland

America is known as the land of freedom, a melting pot of all different beliefs, both moral and religious, as well as various cultures, nationalities and backgrounds and has come together and created a democratic society where the people make the rules.

One of those rules, which has graced this country since 1791, is the First Amendment & the most important right, in my mind, of the U.S. Constitution.

One small paragraph makes up this amendment & 45 words to be exact. But if it weren’t there, America would be entirely different to reside in, a very bleak and unhappy place.

The amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

So now I will get to my point. Loyal readers of the Northern Star know that a very important court case for college journalists finally has been settled (for the time being) in the last month & Kincaid v. Gibson.

For those of you who have no idea what this case entails, here’s a brief synopsis:

In 1994, administrators at Kentucky State University confiscated about 2,000 copies of The Thorobred, a student-made yearbook, because they supposedly were dissatisfied with the purple cover, which didn’t match school colors, and said the current events section was made in poor quality and in all, had a number of errors, both factual and grammatical.

So Charles Kincaid, a KSU student, and Capri Coffer, a former student and Thorobred editor, decided to file suit against Betty Gibson, vice president for student affairs. Their reasoning for the lawsuit & violation of the First Amendment.

For a while, it was very possible that Gibson had a shot of winning and actually did win in 1999 when the federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld censorship of the yearbook. But that, thankfully, wasn’t the end all, be all of the case. She, in fact, did lose, and the future of college press looks a lot brighter because of it.

Now many of you may be wondering, “But what’s in this for me? I don’t work at a college newspaper, so I really don’t care if the media is muzzled or not. It’s just not an issue for me.”

Oh, but it is, believe me.

Here’s another addition to the previous history lesson: The Star is a completely student-run paper. Yes, there is an adviser here, but he does exactly that & he advises. Nothing more, nothing less. President John Peters does not come in at his own leisure to take a quick gander at the work being done and offer his opinions on what’s going in for the next day. No member of the NIU faculty or staff enters the doors of Suite 130 of the Campus Life Building to change anything written in the Star. That’s what makes this paper so great.

Believe it or not, NIU’s student publication is here for the students. I’m not just saying this because I work here either & it’s a fact.

What’s so scary about cases such as Kincaid v. Gibson is that the Supreme Court can change its mind any time, which could change the future of the college press completely.

Student newspapers are so very crucial to all schools for one huge reason & for the most part, it’s the only form of news distributed in a non-biased manner on subjects relating the university of choice.

Just imagine if the Star weren’t around. Where would students get their news? How would they know if there was a fire in Grant South, a rape on Hillcrest or a murder at Altgeld? Chances are, they probably wouldn’t know. Yes, the The Daily Chronicle is out there and running strong, but that publication is located in DeKalb, not NIU.

There’s a reason why the Star is located in the middle of campus. It’s there so student journalists can get that breaking story, can talk to students and find out what they want at NIU and overall, help the students.

If the right of freedom of the press for college students was taken away, the student body would end up in the dark. The public affairs department always will be there with stories, but only stories the university wants printed and nothing more. The rights of students to know what’s happening, both good and bad, at NIU, would take a back seat to everything great NIU has to offer.

If it were up to some, or maybe all, of the administration here, the Star probably would be shut down, or at least heavily censored. But thanks to Kincaid v. Gibson, the chance of that happening is not very strong. People may try, but it would be a very long, bitter fight.

The college newspaper is one, if not the most, unbiased form of freedom of the press for many different reasons, including the fact that the Star is not corporately owned and does not have to answer to anyone but the people and the publisher, who happens to be the editor in chief and a student at NIU, too. People should take note of that and of the First Amendment in general. America is the land of many freedoms & don’t take them for granted because no one knows when these rights may be challenged or, in the worst-case scenario, taken away.