BFA journalist testifies before House on press freedom

Bill would provide First Amendment protections to students

Messenger Staff

By Mike Donoghue

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MONTPELIER — Legislation designed to ensure First Amendment protections for student journalists and their teacher/advisers is one step closer to becoming Vermont law following the testimony of the top newspaper editor at BFA-St. Albans.

Robbie Maher, the editor-in-chief for The Mercury, explained to the House Judiciary Committee that student journalists, if given the opportunity, can tell important stories that students, faculty and the community need to know.

“Unlike some of BFA’s neighboring high schools – even though the opportunity obviously exists – BFA’s administrative team has a positive record of not censoring any aspect of The Mercury, that includes both the print and online versions. The Mercury is printed within our local daily newspaper — the St. Albans Messenger – and circulates throughout all of Franklin County, not just inside the halls of BFA,” Maher said during testimony last Thursday.

He told Vermont legislators the BFA model, which mirrors the legislation, is needed in the state. He said the legislation can be used to ensure successful student media programs at other public high schools and colleges. BFA journalism students know they are fortunate when they hear stories about censorship by administrators at other schools, he said.

Maher was one of three Vermont high school editors invited to provide testimony to the Judiciary Committee about legislation that is part of a national campaign by the Student Press Law Center called “New Voices.” The legislation is designed to ensure future journalists learn the basics of asking tough questions and doing proper research while students so they will be better able to separate fact from fiction later in life.

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