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If you want a democracy, don’t censor student journalists

Censorship in the media has always been a topic of debate but has become a much larger issue in recent months. President Donald Trump has slammed the media on several occasions, deeming news that doesn’t align with his views as“fake news” and writing off journalists. However, without a free press, it is impossible for the public to make informed decisions and opinions.

At Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia, students were fired from their newspaper, The Champion, after not following their presidents, Jerry Falwell Jr.’s, wishes. In 2016, Falwell endorsed Trump. Following this endorsement, Falwell required opinion writers at The Champion to have a sentence at the end of their articles saying who they would be voting for in the election. One writer, Jordan Jerrett, refused to do this and instead wrote, “The writer refused to reveal which candidate she is supporting for president.”

The beauty of working at The Maine Campus is that there are many different personalities that exist within our newsroom. We have a strong relationship with the faculty that oversee our funding, and we would never face an issue where we would be censored, in fact, we are encouraged to tell these controversial stories that are making headlines. It is important to keep the student body informed, and it is unfair and absurd that President Falwell would step on these student journalists’ toes in such a way; they are only doing what is taught in any basic journalism course. Requiring writers to share their political stance by announcing which candidate they were planning to vote for breaks the basic rule of journalistic writing: remaining neutral. While these pieces were opinions, they do not represent the opinion of the paper, like most newspapers. At Liberty University, students reached out for Falwell’s comment on a piece, and instead of declining a comment, he told the student journalists that The Champion shouldn’t even bother covering the event or writing the piece – a blatant way of censoring the content and integrity of the paper.

Additionally, writers and journalists alike should not feel any sort of pressure or receive instructions that explicitly demand they ignore the ethics of journalism. In college classes, we are trained to ask the important and sometimes uncomfortable questions. The Maine Campus is a separate entity from UMaine, a model that many colleges should consider having their newspaper follow. The freedom of the press is crucial as it allows journalists and readers to express their dismay or simply tell the facts and inform the public. By removing this right, you are taking away the voice of the people, which is not how a democracy works.

As a society, we need to shift away from the idea that journalists are bad and a free press is dangerous, because, in reality, we need a free press in order to thrive. As a student journalist, now is the time where our profession matters the most. Now is the time to ask the hard questions, have those uncomfortable conversations, and be confident in our ability to report the facts and tell stories.

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