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A media law expert told a crowd at the University of Central Arkansas Thursday night that student journalists should be protected under the same laws that protect professional journalists.

“We’ve got to double down on student media and not pull the rug out from under it,” Frank LoMonte, a journalism professor and director of the University of Florida’s Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, said during a lecture on “Freedom of Information in the Age of Evolving Technology” in Stanley Russ Hall on the UCA campus in Conway.

LoMonte, who was director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington D.C. for nearly 10 years, also works with New Voices, a volunteer-based organization that pushes for laws that implement protections for student journalists.

“New Voices is a way to even those odds,” LoMonte said.

Fourteen states have enacted laws to protect student journalists, including Arkansas. But Arkansas’ law falls into a special category, LoMonte said. In 1995, Arkansas legislators passed a law that requires every school district and board to adopt a press-freedom policy to protect high school journalists. The law does not mention collegiate journalists, and LoMonte said the law is vague and does not contain any outlined penalties to districts that break the law.

Next semester, LoMonte plans to conduct a county-by-county survey in Arkansas to determine whether the law is effective in protecting student journalists.

UCA sophomore Tristen Hall said listening to LoMonte encouraged her to advocate for her rights as a student journalist.

“Students, our voices aren’t heard,” Hall said. “We’re being censored.”

Hall said she appreciates that UCA provides money for a student media program, particularly because the school she transferred from, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, dissolved its student media outlets.

Polly Walter, an associate journalism professor at UCA, wrote the proposal to bring LoMonte to the university. She asked him to speak at the School of Communication after she heard him lecture at a conference at Vanderbilt University, she said.

“The students have been very responsive,” she said.

Walter’s goal in bringing LoMonte to campus was to get the students excited for the upcoming school year and provide them with fresh ideas, she said.

“It’s a way of keeping up with what’s going on in our field,” Walter said.

LoMonte, who was at UCA for a three-day residency, also spoke at UCA Journalism Day on Friday. Arkansas student journalists from college and high school campuses across the state attended the event.

UCA hasn’t had a Journalism Day since at least 2000, said Donna Lampkin Stephens, the school’s interim director.

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