Knight News received the prestigious College Press Freedom Award Saturday in Washington D.C., after years of fighting to stop UCF secrecy by filing three open government lawsuits.
“UCF has fiercely resisted transparency on each occasion, frequently falling back on the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Statute (“FERPA”), even for documents that are neither educational nor confidential, such as reports of expense reimbursements paid to student government officers,” according to a press release from the Student Press Law Center.
Orange County Circuit Judge John E. Jordan ruled that UCF broke the law by refusing to release those expense reimbursement reports, which included expenses revealing which student government officers were sent to lobby in Tallahassee. Since then, UCF has appealed that ruling and is dragging out the fight even longer.
The Student Press Law Center criticized UCF’s tactics, including trying to force Knight News to pay UCF’s crippling legal fee even when Knight News won in court. The university has also tried to disqualify Knight News’ attorney for speaking out against UCF’s concealment tactics at a UCF Board of Trustees meeting.
“We have rarely seen a university attack its student journalists with the viciousness of the University of Central Florida and its legal team. The university’s tactics have crossed the line from ‘aggressive’ into ‘rabid,’ with no conceivable purpose other than to harass Knight News and to inflict needless cost and delay,” SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte said.
This is the first time in history that the College Press Freedom Award was awarded to a strictly online student news publication. The award was presented during the Associated College Press annual convention.
The SPLC pointed out in the press release that since the Central Florida Future had ceased publication after a 48 year run that Knight News is the only news organization left to fight in court to hold the university accountable.
“Knight News is the information lifeline for the UCF community, and it has fought at great risk to gather the information needed to hold the university publicly accountable – information that is readily produced at other colleges without a struggle,” LoMonte said.
The Student Press Law Center was founded in 1974 and has ever since been determined to help high school and college journalists learn about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment. They have also shown several publications support in covering important campus issues free from any sort of censorship.