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Should school admins meddle with campus press affairs?


There are a variety of things that make the Student Experience™ unique to every individual—your chosen degree, the school culture, the environment, and yes, even the controversies. Despite these idiosyncrasies, though, one thing seemingly universal (especially among campus press) is the struggle to call out systemic flaws without falling victim to administrative censorship. Or if I’m being brutally honest, power-tripping.

The debacle involving TomasinoWeb (the “premier digital media organization of the University Santo Tomas”) and the university’s Office of Students Affairs might be your latest recollection of such a case, but it’s not an isolated one. In fact, it’s just a chapter in the ongoing saga of campus journalists battling restrictions and threats.

Suppression under the guise of maintaining reputation

POV: You got into your dream school—but it wasn’t exactly the “dream” you had in mind. Student-first policies, intellectual freedom, creative expression, and critical thinking were touted in brochures and even during recruitment drives or orientations. On-ground realities often tell a different story, though.

Turns out, these promises practically come with an asterisk—a (seemingly invisible) caveat that reads: “subject to administrative approval.”

In the case of TomasinoWeb, the supposed “offense” was an image of two students whose uniforms apparently resembled those of convenience store employees. Many people consider it a funny observation, but the university admin saw it fit to intervene—even going as far as citing concerns of “public ridicule.”

Then again, what’s so subversive about being compared to store workers? The last time I checked, there’s no dishonor in honest labor. If anything, the situation could have led us to a deeper commentary on societal perceptions and the arbitrary distinctions we draw between professions. 

So, is it truly damaging—or is it just a case of hypersensitivity on the part of the admin? Rather than redacting these discussions, they should embrace them as opportunities for dialogue and introspection.

Besides, if innocuous observations like this are already considered grounds for censorship, where does it end? Will the campus press—or maybe even the entire student body—be soon prohibited from discussing stuff that could potentially cast the school in a less-than-perfect light? 

Or worse, it’s probably happening already. And we’re just unaware because dissenting voices are forced into silence. (Well, considering how even I—a student from a different university—had also experienced being threatened for speaking against the education system a few years ago, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that more insidious forms of censorship could be at play.)

Campus press deserves editorial freedom

For a country that prides itself on being democratic, it’s baffling how student journalists get regulated (read: micromanaged) by their respective schools. These young writers, photographers, and editors should not be treated like mere pawns to be moved at the whim of administrative agendas.

Sure, I get it. Maintaining a positive image is important for any organization. But burying uncomfortable truths under the rug won’t make them disappear. Discouraging dissent (and controlling the narrative) isn’t the solution. 

The last time I checked, there’s no dishonor in honest labor.

The campus press is *not* an extension of the institution’s PR department, nor is it a mere bulletin board for sanctioned announcements. It’s the pulse of student sentiment, the watchdog of campus affairs, and the harbinger of truth—however inconvenient it may be.

So, instead of viewing the campus press as adversaries, why not see them as allies in the pursuit of academic excellence? Besides, shouldn’t admins listen to the very people they claim to prioritize? Students’ perspectives and criticisms are essential for growth and improvement within the school walls. They directly bear the brunt of institutional shortcomings, after all.

As such, student journos deserve the autonomy to fulfill their roles without compromise or fear of administrative reprisal. “Press freedom” must not be limited to traditional media; it must extend to the grassroots level as well. 

Let’s not cultivate a future where journalists are considered nothing more than glorified mouthpieces for the status quo. Grant them free will and allow them to fearlessly investigate and report on issues that are relevant to their peers—be it campus policies, social injustices, and/or even the trivialities of student life.

(Plus, in an age where mis/disinformation runs rampant and trust in the media is fairly low, empowering aspiring journos becomes more crucial than ever. Doing otherwise would not only be a disservice to the student body—but to society as a whole.)

Beyond autonomy, campus press needs (concrete) legal protection

As per the Supreme Court, students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The Campus Journalism Act of 1991 (Republic Act No. 7079) also adds a layer of legal framework that supposedly safeguards free speech. Aside from “upholding and protecting the campus press,” the law cites that “a student shall not be expelled or suspended solely on the basis of articles he or she has written.”

That’s about it, though. Other provisions under R.A. 7079 can be deemed weak and vague—plus its seeming lack of enforcement mechanisms allows school administrations to exploit loopholes and subject the campus press to undue influence.

(Note: We also have the National Campus Press Freedom Day Act, but it is essentially just a reiteration of the CJA and a declaration of observance.)


📢 Censorship sa student publications? Bawal yan! 🚫✍️ Alamin ang iyong karapatan sa Freedom of Expression sa loob ng campus. #CampusJournalism #FreedomOfExpression #StudentRights

♬ Cafe music, corporate VP, comfortable(1277239) – zukisuzuki

“But freedom isn’t absolute.” True. There are responsibilities and limitations that come with it—such as not impinging on the rights of other people and not inciting violence, among others. When these lines are crossed, it’s only understandable for interventions to take place.

Now, what if it’s the “authorities” overstepping boundaries? The existing law is rendered toothless in this aspect, which is among the many reasons why it has to be revisited.

In 2019, Kabataan Partylist “authored and filed” House Bill 319—a.k.a. the Campus Press Freedom Act—to repeal the 1991 law and establish a more robust legal protection for student journos. It seeks to ensure the “genuine” editorial independence of school publications, all while being provided with adequate funds and the right to appoint staff members.

More importantly, HB 319 also contains a penalty clause that’ll hold “erring” administrations accountable for their violation/s. Any form of censorship or power abuse will not go unpunished if this bill gets approved. 

But that’s the thing: Its passing into law remains a huge “if” up to the present.

Despite the obvious need for such legislation, it languishes in bureaucratic limbo—for years now—while other less critical bills seem to sail through the approval process with ease. Our reaction? Disappointed but not surprised.

Change doesn’t come from complacency

On Mar. 11, TomasinoWeb resumed its operations after putting ’em on hold due to the university’s protocol. “We come back stronger than a ’90s trend,” said the organization. “Expect more stories and experiences that challenge the dominant narratives as we top off this publication year.”

To add, Kabataan Partylist Representative Raoul Manuel has recently filed House Resolution No. 1633 “seeking investigations into the censorship and threats of closure made against TomasinoWeb.” It pleads to look into “other violations of students’ rights in the University” as well.

While these are certainly small wins for the campus press, it shouldn’t have come to such a point in the first place. Student journalists shouldn’t have to fight tooth and nail for their right to speak truth to power nor should they be subject to threats, censorship, or administrative meddling. 

But here we are. 

The best thing we can do at the moment is to keep the conversation going, especially when it comes to legislative reforms that would actually prioritize and protect student publications. Let’s keep fighting—for the right to speak our minds, for the right to shape our narratives, and for the right to question authority.

Because if we truly believe in the “transformative power” of education, then we must also believe in the unimpeded flow of information and ideas within its hallowed halls. 

As the old-adage goes, “Knowledge is power.” But true empowerment only comes when said knowledge is shared, discussed, and challenged, without fear of repercussions. Otherwise, we are just peddling a facade of progress while stifling the very voices that could bring about genuine change.

So, to all the student journalists out there: Keep writing, keep speaking out, and keep fighting for your right to tell your stories. Your voices are needed now more than ever. 

And finally, to the powers that be: Stop treating the student press like unruly children who need to be constantly monitored and controlled. Embrace the diversity of thought (and the spirit of inquiry) that they bring to the table. Let them flourish, challenge, and grow. After all, institutions that value freedom of expression are those that value their students—and that is the reputation worth protecting.

Read more:

De Lima filed a bill to protect campus journalism’s free speech

Journalist Pia Ranada on press freedom and covering Malacañang

This local clothing brand reminds us to defend press freedom

Still from “Press Gang” (1989)



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