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Eastern Kentucky University's student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Department of Communication will bring together journalists from around the Commonwealth to discuss the harassment they’ve faced while reporting on the news in a panel called “Guardians of Kentucky.”

The panel will mark the start of the 10th annual First Amendment Week, a campus-wide series of events that shine a light on issues regarding freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion, as well as the importance of these constitutional rights to a functional democracy.  

“We are living in a divisive climate where even asking questions of public officials is met with cynicism and derision,” said Ginny Whitehouse, journalism professor in EKU’s multimedia news program. “Recognizing the role journalists play in our society is vital to the survival of democracy.”

The theme of this year’s First Amendment Week is “Guardians and the War on Truth.”

The Guardians of Kentucky panel will take place Monday, April 15, at 9:30 a.m. in Combs 318. The panel will be moderated by John Nelson, editorial director for Landmark Community Newspapers, and feature journalists Jeff Vanderbeek from the Appalachian News-Express; Miranda Combs from WKYT; Ryan Craig, adviser for the Kentucky Kernel; and Abigail Whitehouse from the Interior Journal.

The following day, at 9:30 a.m., community members are invited to the Meditation Chapel in Powell Square to recognize journalists all over the world who perished while doing their jobs. The names of each fallen reporter will be read aloud. EKU President Dr. Michael T. Benson and President Emeritus Doug Whitlock will attend the memorial to renew the University’s pledge to uphold the First Amendment.

“Ten years ago, then-President Whitlock signed a student media declaration promising a free and independent campus news environment,” Ginny Whitehouse said. “President Benson and President Whitlock will both be at the memorial and plan to sign the pledge a decade later. We are grateful to be on a campus where free speech and the First Amendment are valued.”

The week will wrap up with the Keeping Information Free panel on April 17 at 1:30 p.m. in Combs 316, followed by the Freedom of Religion Panel on April 18 at 11 a.m. in Grise Auditorium. The Keeping Information Free panel features alumna Zana Day, communications director for Brand New Congress, a postpartisan organization committed to helping first-time candidates seek office. The Freedom of Religion panel will be moderated by Dr. Anne Cizmar, assistant professor in the Department of Government, and will touch on topics such as displaying “In God We Trust” in schools and religious challenges to vaccine mandates.

First Amendment Week is headed by the EKU student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and coordinated by the Department of Communication and Department of Government. Other sponsors this year include the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors and the Public Relations Student Society of America.