Should school newspapers be required to retract offensive articles?

Brown University ignites national battle between freedom of speech and political correctness

Becky Han, Contributing Writer

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The purpose of a newspaper is to inform its readers of important issues. With this in mind, it only makes sense for journalists to not be able to publish articles that are false or scandalous as readers should be able to rely on newspapers to reveal the truth.

The issue of the retraction of newspaper articles has been highlighted as of late following an incident at Brown University in which the college newspaper published two “deeply hurtful,” racist articles, with the articles in question claiming that Native Americans should be appreciative for colonialism. After the articles were published, many at Brown were outraged, holding protests to raise awareness of racism within college communities.

Some students argued that the newspaper should have anticipated the harmful emotional impact of the articles and simply retracted them prior to circulation, while others claimed that the newspaper was justified in publishing the article as it was the author’s personal opinion and violating it could be considered as censoring a voice.

Although newspapers live on the idea of freedom of speech, this privilege must still be somewhat limited in order to avoid certain conflicts, namely violence or a misinformed populace. While newspapers should always be able to publish articles with multiple opinions, journalists should never be allowed to publish an article consisting of false information. Readers should only be able to read news that is based in truth, not something that reads like an over-exaggerated tabloid.

The main responsibility of the news is to report information so others will be able to understand what is currently happening in their society, and newspapers do not have a mandate to stretch and twist the truth around in order to make it sound favorable or to vilify a person or an idea unjustly.

“Newspaper regulations over falsified information in public articles should require a retraction of said articles.  The purpose of newspapers is to provide information on current events to the fullest extent of the truth.  Any extreme bias or damaging opinions would only bring ruin to the public and to the newspapers,” said freshman Audri Wong.

To clarify, freedom of the press allows the news to publish its own opinions, whether that be damaging or hurtful toward a certain group of people. Editorial commentary is fine; however, newspapers can still be sued if it, for instance, revealed false information of a person or violated an individual’s privacy.  Thus, journalists should strive to express their opinions based on truth, while also being aware that they are responsible for everything they choose to reveal to the public eye. Something that is untrue or incites violence should never be published.

“If it is truly a dire situation that puts others at risk, then the article should surely be taken out,” said freshman Julia Bischoff.

Certain opinions stated in articles may provoke violence. For instance, a false statement may offend a certain group enough to provoke them into resorting to committing violent crimes as a resolution to that problem. To avoid this from occurring, newspaper editors should keep in mind that they should carefully choose to retract certain blatantly hurtful or extremely offensive statements that will very likely greatly aggravate some people to the extent of a physical attack or the like.  The priority of the safety of others should be instilled in the journalist’s mind before they try to make a statement.

“Newspapers inform people about the world that they live in.  Many people trust newspapers to supply them truthful, beneficial information.  Therefore, it would not only be wrong for journalists to publish false statements but also dangerous,” said sophomore Solbi Oh.

As previously stated, newspapers are accountable for informing readers of what is happening, and this includes covering topics that range from those of a local high school, to current events taking place around the world. While one might assume that this duty might help persuade journalists to avoid changing the facts into false statements, it is an unfortunate reality that some continue to do just that.

“If a newspaper is unable to retract articles, it would be impossible for them to rectify both harmless errors and malignant slander,” said junior Aaron Gindi.

Whether a newspaper knowingly publishes something that is false or simply makes a journalistic error, at the end of the day, the paper is still responsible for that misinformation that it disseminated to the public. Thus, newspapers should publicly acknowledge their errors and make conscious efforts to improve the quality of the writing it publishes in order to have more truthful articles in the future.

On the other hand, as mentioned before, adding bias to an article in order to support a position should not only be allowed but strongly encouraged as it enables a reader to see multiple viewpoints before developing an informed opinion on a subject.

Oftentimes, school newspapers’ articles will be censored to avoid damaging the reputation of an individual or the school as a whole. Though many oppose this censorship, it may actually be quite necessary in certain scenarios.  The purpose of retracting articles from newspapers should depend on if that article might harm the safety of someone or a group of people, or if it contains false statements that will misinform the public. With all this, the bottom line is, and will forever be, that newspapers should only expose the truth as all papers have a civil obligation to accurately inform their readers.

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