Frank LoMonte Comments on Protecting Free Speech and Student Publications
Frank LoMonte, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Brechner Center for Freedom of Information director, is quoted in the editorial “‘The Post’ Urges OU to Re-Open Access to Title IX Records” published in The Post (Athens, Ohio) on Feb. 14.
The Post staff editorial focuses on the lack of public access to student Title IX allegations against university employees at Ohio University. It suggests that university officials are using the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to deny access.
According to LoMonte, “withholding entire documents that should be released in redacted form makes the university liable under open records laws, which guarantee access to documents produced by public institutions.”
LoMonte was also quoted in “UM Housing Staff Leaves Dorm Doors Alone in Protecting Free Speech” published on mlive.com on Feb. 13.
This article addresses a University of Michigan policy against erasing “hate speech” messages from dorm whiteboards. According to LoMonte, people working for a public university can’t selectively silence speech based on its viewpoint, unless the speech crosses some extreme boundaries. He said that people can’t be penalized for violating standards too vague for a reasonable person to know what is and is not protected.
“’Hate speech’ does not have any legally understood definition, and it’s so subjective that it could expose people to punishment for even a sharply worded political statement,” LoMonte said. “People often use strong language in expressing deeply felt political beliefs, and ‘strong’ may translate to ‘hateful’ to the ears of some listeners.”
In addition, LoMonte was quoted in “Student Journalists Hold Power to Account, With Fewer Protections” published in the Columbia Journalism Review on Feb. 13.
The article focuses on increased punishments for journalism faculty and advisors for reporting on sensitive school issues. Student news organizations can be disrupted by getting rid of the advisor.
According to LoMonte, having second-level protections under state laws ensures that student journalist rights are not violated. “New Voices” legislation can help provide protections.
“New Voices actually minimizes disputes and facilitates resolving them quickly because the law clearly lays out everyone’s roles and boundaries,” he said. “While there’s no data to prove that protections such as New Voices directly translates to enterprise reporting, additional student-journalist protections are often better represented at journalism competitions.”