Nebraska senator introduces Free Speech Bill protecting student journalists

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Elle Love
SENIOR ONLINE REPORTER

Sen. Adam Morfield introduced a bill protecting student journalists’ press protection and free speech rights on Jan. 7. Photo courtesy of nebraskalegislature.gov.

Nebraska State Senator Adam Morfield introduced Legislative Bill 88 on Jan. 7, with the bill’s intent to protect student journalists’ free speech and press protection rights.

LB88 also reads that it would not protect any expression by a student journalist that is libelous or slanderous, constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy, violates state or federal law or incites students to engage in an unlawful act.

Many organizations have written testimonies in support of LB 88 including the Student Press Law Center, the Nebraska State Education Association, the ACLU of Nebraska and the Nebraska Press Association.

Journalism majors Adam Ortega and Ana Bellinghausen said they agreed that students’ press protections are needed more than ever.

“I think it’s fantastic. The next generation needs a voice – one built on free speech. It makes me hopeful for the future,” Ortega said.

Producing digital media for both the local NPR station, 91.5 KIOS and alternative press, North Omaha Information Supports Everyone (NOISE), Ortega said he believes in the power of community journalism.

“The First Amendment is the reason we’re all doing this right? People, citizens, families all searching for reliable information,” Ortega said. “How do we provide sustainable information? The First Amendment ensures power to the people.”

Bellinghausen’s experience in journalism branches from high school where she wrote stories for her high school’s yearbook. Throughout college, she expanded her experience as a journalist through radio and TV including reporting, broadcasting and other avenues.

“The First Amendment means everything,” Bellinghausen said. “It allows us to be a check of power, and for students, sometimes the power you’re checking is the power of your university.”

Ana Bellinghausen, a student journalist at UNO and the president of the UNO Women in Media Club, says she believes the First Amendment is “everything” for journalists. Photo courtesy of Jodeane Brownlee.

Bellinghausen said that protecting free speech is vital when it comes to reporting, especially when facing crisis situations in the current pandemic and covering a range of social justice movements.

“Journalists should have the peoples’ backs. They should not be held back by the government or any organization before reporting news to the people,” Bellinghausen said.

Ortega said the protection of free speech is essential, with ethics in place to promote reliable information.

“Alt-right extremists abuse this concept of free speech to harass and spread false information. I can distinguish reliable media from less reliable sources, but not everyone on Facebook can do that,” he said.

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