Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Free Speech: A Price on Their Head

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Free Speech: A Price on Their Head

Article excerpt

Student journalists on the Rocky Mountain Collegian, Colorado State University's student newspaper, have been dealt a sharp lesson in the limits of the American constitution's First Amendment, which protects free speech.

Following the newspaper's publication of a "profane" leading article--"Taser this ... Fuck Bush"--in September, which hit the national headlines and led to advertisers withdrawing support, the president of the university, Larry Penley, began talks with America's largest newspaper publisher, Gannett, publishers of USA Today, about a "partnership" between the Collegian and the company's local paper, the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

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The undergraduate editor, J David McSwane, insists the editorial, prompted by the tasering of a student protester by security guards at Florida University, was intended to rouse students to discuss the importance of free speech, not to cause offence.

"The editorial board felt very strongly that it's time college students, especially CSU students, start talking about issues," he said.

But the expletive use led advertisers to withdraw $30,000 of business and attracted the wrath of Penley. "We have found the unintended consequences of such a bold statement to be disheartening," conceded McSwane.

After admonishing but not ousting McSwane, Penley hinted that that would not be the end of the matter. "While student journalists enjoy all the privileges and protections of the First Amendment, they must also accept full responsibility for the choices they make," he announced, before opening secret negotiations with Gannett to explore whether the company might take a stake in the Collegian or combine its efforts with its Fort Collins paper. …

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