Censorship is wrong and stealing newspapers in order to deprive others of information is censorship.
Late last week a Saddleback College student, irate about a story in our student newspaper, removed at least one bundle of Lariats from a newsstand on the second floor of the SSC building so others would not see the details of his arrest on charges of alleged assault on a campus police officer.
On Monday, Zach Chanoski told a Lariat reporter in a phone conversation that he displaced the missing newspapers and would have no problem doing it again – remove every Lariat to be found – if this week’s issue does not meet his satisfaction.
We’re not sure exactly who did it, but an unknown culprit cleared out most of the newsstands over the weekend, in addition to the newspapers Chanoski removed.
Chanoski was referring to his second arrest on charges of alleged assault, this time on a fellow student. It took place on campus last Friday, and the details can be found on the front page of this edition.
The more serious allegations aside, Chanoski is expected to be further charged with penal code 490.7, state legislation making it a crime for any individual to take “more than 25 copies of the current issue of a free or complimentary newspaper if done with the intent to…deprive others of the opportunity to read or enjoy the newspaper.” Violators face a fine of up to $500 and 10 days in county jail.
Chanoski’s threat is alarming and we applaud law enforcement for its quick action in this matter.
But what is more frightening is the fact that this incident, to the best of our knowledge, is the third time this decade that student newspapers at Saddleback have been stolen or removed in an attempt to silence a free press.
Do we need armed guards standing beside each newsstand to make sure readers can receive the news?
First Amendment rights are just that, rights. People may not like or appreciate the fact that we report on unfortunate run-ins with authorities, but tough luck. There is a responsibility for us as news reporters to provide our readers with breaking stories, especially as they relate to our district’s campuses. Censorship is an unfortunate occurrence. A person can run around trying to steal or destroy as many copies of a newspaper as humanly possible, but that act will never completely succeed in depriving readers of news.
It may seem silly to charge someone with such a petty crime involving free newspapers, but students, faculty and employees may have been deprived of campus news. At least, the California Newspaper Publishers Association thinks it’s important for them to have news. It supported passage of legislation that led to PC 490.7.
And what of advertisers who may have been denied the exposure we promise them when selling ad space? The Lariat is expected to generate a certain amount of money to pay back what it is fronted annually by the college to help with production costs. If advertisers feel they won’t get exposure, they might be hesitant to place ads. The Lariat would then have to make good on those ads. In other words, give free advertising space to make up for lost exposure, resulting in a net revenue loss to the college.
Saddleback is not the only college to deal with the issue of censorship through stolen newspapers. Within the last week, four colleges reported newspaper thefts. Ball State University in Indiana reported 8,000 papers missing after publishing a front-page story highlighting the arrest of one of the university’s soccer players. Kent State University in Ohio reported 2,500 papers missing. Lastly, Loyola Marymount in Westchester and the University of New Orleans each reported 300 papers found in trash cans or recycling bins.
So far, the Lariat’s losses have been less that that and we hope it stays that way.