Freeing the press - Page 4

Longtime media crusaders and students battling censorship honored by the Society of Professional Journalists with James Madison Awards in 2009

"And the community knows the Redwood Bark has rights." (Deia de Brito)


Shasta High School student Amanda Cope speaks passionately about freedom of speech after her brush with censorship, telling the Guardian, "We are preserving the validity of the Constitution. Free speech is a protection, a safety, that lets us function normally without fear."

Cope was editor-in-chief of the Shasta High School student paper, The Volcano, when a controversy flared over the paper's end-of-year issue, which featured a front-page image of a student burning an American flag. Shasta High principal Milan Woollard was already considering shutting down The Volcano when the issue came out and publicly stated: "This cements that decision."

But following a maelstrom of objection from Cope and the rest of The Volcano staff in what looked like a form of censorship in schools, the school district reversed its decision. "I think a lot of students feel they are marginalized in society. They're teenagers. They don't have many rights and they feel like they're squished by adults and people in general," Cope said. "The student paper becomes an outlet for those feelings, and a way for students to explore their world." (Juliette Tang)


Last November, the principal of Carlmont High School in Belmont shut down the student paper, The Scots Express. School officials claimed that the paper lacked adequate faculty oversight after it published a satirical article about the writer's sex appeal.

Editor-in-chief Alex Zhang fought back against what he saw as censorship and rejected school officials' justifications. "I just wanted my paper back," he told the Guardian.

In response to the uproar over what many saw as a muzzling of the press, the Sequoia Union High School District began training Carlmont staff on First Amendment rights and mandated an overhaul of the school's freedom of speech policy. The district is planning an expansion of its journalism programs in the school curriculum and a partnership with the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club.

Zhang is working on relaunching the publication in late March under the faculty oversight of English teacher Raphael Kauffmann. "You can't have a democracy without freedom of information," Zhang said. "And I'm proud to be one of those young journalists who care about the freedom of information." (Joe Sciarrillo)



As the Guardian chronicled in a cover story last year ("Hunting the lord of war," June 23, 2008), San Francisco-based human rights investigator Kathi Austin has spent almost two decades tracking down and exposing those who have made a business out of human rights violations.

Most recently, Austin helped bring the notorious Viktor Bout, a Russian entrepreneur accused of illegally trafficking weapons to brutal regimes from Colombia to the Congo.

"A human rights violation is considered a violation that is carried out by a state actor," Austin told the Guardian. "We were trying to change the whole field of human rights to philosophically say we should be going after these private perpetrators as well."

Thanks largely to Austin's work, Bout was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 and will likely face criminal charges in the United States. Despite working in treacherous places like Angola and Rwanda, doing meticulous and time-consuming research, Austin said her approach is simple: "What's wrong and who's doing it?"

Her patience and persistent pursuit of international justice have led Austin to positions at the U.N., the World Bank, the Center for Human Rights, and the Council on Foreign Relations, to name a few.