New Voices Act gives more voice to student journalists

Payton Carns

In January of this year, two Kentucky State Representatives introduced HB187 in the 2021 Regular Session, also known as the “New Voices Act.” Representative and Manual alum Attica Scott (Class of 1990) co-wrote the bill alongside Representative Nima Kulkarni.

The bill outlines specific freedoms for student journalists in Kentucky, stating, “Freedom of expression through school-sponsored media is a fundamental principle in our democratic society granted by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Sections 1 and 8 of the Constitution of Kentucky.” 

“[The bill] really is designed to protect the rights of student journalists so that their school can’t retaliate against them,” Scott said in an interview with RedEye.

Representative Scott cited that a group of student journalists from Lexington, Louisville and Bullitt County came to her asking if she could sponsor the bill.

“It grew out of a situation where they were trying to cover the former President Trump when he was in Lexington at a political event, and they were blocked from covering that event because they were student journalists,” she said. “So of course I said, yes, I would be honored to file the bill and we’ve been working together ever since.”

The bill’s nickname, “New Voices Act,” was inspired by the journalists who came to Representative Scott. 

“There’s a National New Voices organization and students who came to me, they’re part of that campaign and initiative,” she said. “And so, you know, as we were talking, it just seemed to me to make sense to acknowledge their hard work by naming this the New Voices bill.”

The New Voices Campaign is a student-run grassroots group of state-based activists that are constantly finding new ways to protect student journalists’ freedom.

The Bill goes on to say, “There shall be no prior restraint of material prepared for school-sponsored media except insofar as the material violates the standards of subsection (5) of this section.” Subsection five states exceptions to the publication freedom of student journalists, such as libel and slander, violating federal laws or publishing confidential information.

Representative Scott doesn’t define libel and slander as meaning “if my feelings are hurt” but more so intentionally spreading lies about a person or organization.

“If you’re putting out correct information, if you’re making the comfortable, uncomfortable, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do as investigative journalists,” she said.

Representative Scott recognized a difference between student journalists and local/national journalists, part of the inspiration for writing this bill.

“Part of the issue is that student journalists can often expose issues that other journalists miss because students are willing to dig in deeper,” she said.  “They don’t necessarily have those relationships with some elected officials that some have developed or that lack of willingness to call stuff out.”

Part of the bill also protects student journalism advisors from scrutiny from the school’s administration when they protect their student’s rights; it calls for each local school board to draft a written policy of all the freedoms written in the bill.

Representative Scott wants student journalists across the state to understand that their work matters.

“For our student journalists across Kentucky, please keep being the investigative journalists that we all need desperately in our Commonwealth,” Scott said.

The bill was introduced to the KY House of Representatives and is currently in committee.