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SB 119: Media Keep First Amendment Rights at HS Ball Games; Bloggers Also Journalists

Last updated on 2013.06.07

Senate Bill 119 is an example of a bill we shouldn't need. Various schools around the state have attempted to claim their sports events as some sort of private property to which they can sell exclusive broadcast rights to favored media outlets. The First Amendment, backed with civic pride and horse sense, should tell us that our students' performances in our public spaces are matters of public interest which any journalist ought to be able to record and broadcast for the benefit of the public.

Some jurisprudence curtails media rights at high school sports events, and the South Dakota High School Activities Association follows that jurisprudence closely to protect the revenue-generating power of its State Tournaments.

Nonetheless, Senator Marc Johnston (R-12/Sioux Falls) and Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) feel local school districts need a firm reminder of their obligation to the First Amendment. Their Senate Bill 119 makes clear that no school district or school board may "interfere with the right of news media to attend and engage in journalism concerning any interscholastic high school activity or event." Whether that means school boards could no longer empower their state activities association to restrict journalists at State Tournaments is an open and interesting question. Sen. Johnston got his Commerce and Energy committee colleagues to vote for this bill 7–0; it now awaits Senate action.

I note with mischievous glee that SB 119 includes the following definitions of "journalism" and "news media":

  1. "Journalism," the gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, streaming, broadcasting, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns matters of public interest for dissemination to the public, including on the internet;
  2. "News media," personnel of a newspaper or other periodical issued at regular intervals, a news service, a radio station, a television station, or a television network, regardless of whether the news media is in print, electronic, or digital format;....

Let's see... I gather, write, and publish information of public interest. I issue a periodical in digital format at regular intervals. SB 119 acknowledges the right of my humble blog to stand next to Kevin Woster, Jerry Oster, and Mike Henriksen, snapping and tweeting away at high school events and other newsworthy public happenings. And when someone asks what I think I'm doing, I can point to SB 119 and say, "Journalism."


  1. Mike Henriksen 2013.02.04

    This will have the biggest effect on the Pierre school district, who has contracted with KGFX for the last few years for their basketball and football games. KCCR, once they were shut out, has done Stanley County games since then.

    This will not effect the SDHSAA, who maintains rights to post season and state tourneys, but has no say in regular season, instead allowing ...wait for it...local control!

  2. Michael Black 2013.02.04

    Just because you represent a media outlet does not give you any more rights at a game than anyone else. In other words, the AD doesn't have to let you on the sidelines of a football game or under the basket if they don't want to. I have seen people booted because their presence constituted a safety risk to the players.

  3. Mick Garry 2013.02.04

    Both Mike and I have been escorted out of gyms as safety threats many times. When the breaks are going against the team we're rooting for, we start throwing stuff, using colorful language, yelling at wayward children and the like. Then we get kicked out.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.04

    Mike, I take it KCCR lost its lawsuit against the Pierre school district a few years ago over those exclusive rights? Do you know any details on the final disposition of that lawsuit?

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.04

    Michael, SB 119 recognizes that safety point, by leaving schools the authority to set rules to accommodate journalists but still set reasonable limitations.

    Mick, quit throwing stuff! :-)

    And if someone whose name doesn't start with M doesn't join this thread, the conversation could get confusing.

  6. Mike Henriksen 2013.02.04

    Sorry, I do not.

    And Mick is right. The only reason they keep letting us back in is to give the local village idiot a break for the night.

  7. Donald Pay 2013.02.04

    I understand that broadcasting high school games is a moneymaker for local media, but why shouldn't students benefit rather than media moguls? I don't think these contracts can keep sports journalists totally out. It just guarantees broadcast rights for the game, but other sports journalists should still be able to broadcast highlights.

    If we really wanted to make athletics more educational, the broadcast rights ought to reside with the students of the school, and the game broadcasts (whether on radio or local cable) ought to be part of the educational opportunities provided to students. I'd like to see students getting experience in play-by-play and color analysis, either by doing it themselves or by internships with the media. I broached the idea of having student journalists writing features on school activities for the RC Journal. My kid and I did several feature stories on high school forensics that ran in the Journal in 2000. How many schools even have school newspapers anymore?

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.04

    Donald, broadcast rights for students first is the route Sioux Falls has taken. Integrating student journalism with those activities is a great idea. Sioux Falls has some good student papers. So, I hear, does Rutland, right, Carl? :-)

  9. Mike Henriksen 2013.02.04

    Donald you bring up a lot of points, but it is late, so I will only address a couple of those.

    Many schools do just what you suggest. It works that way part of the time here in Dells. On Tuesday I will be speaking with a group of students from the Clear Lake area concerning their webcasts. My understanding is they work with their regional cable company. The SF situation has been well documented.

    Please don't think stations, or websites, or individuals, are getting rich on this. They are not. And the amount of time the stations/entities gives to schools can not be measured. School lunch menus, cheerleader car washes, cancellations, etc., are all reported free of charge. Schools and the media should have a partnership, not a client/customer relationship. IMO.

  10. Donald Pay 2013.02.04


    I understand that media do a lot of free coverage, but let's be honest here. Lunch menus and cancellations mean you have a lot of listeners tuning to the station. That helps sell space and time to advertisers. One of the things the weekly paper I worked for in Rapid City decided to do was cover soccer. It was during a time when the RC Journal was ignoring it. As a result our readership jumped, and parents who had businesses began advertising with us. Hey, we went under a few years later, but soccer kept us alive for a while.

  11. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.05

    End interscholastic sports and require ALL students to participate in some kind of physical exercise in every grade every day.

Comments are closed.