EDITORIAL: Stealing newspapers should remain a crime
Published: Monday, July 16, 2012
Updated: Monday, July 16, 2012 19:07
Students at the University of Northern Colorado who take an upper-level news-editorial journalism class are always given a slideshow presentation on the first day. Having taken said class, I can almost guarantee that the first slide will include the question “What rights are granted in the First Amendment of the Constitution?”
Obviously, “speech” is the first one thrown out there, followed by all the others, which are all important in their own way. For journalists, though, the freedom of the press is the most important. And that’s the point the first slide tries to make.
As a student, it’s easy to sit there and listen, but the importance of this lecture might not ring true until there’s a point when you realize just how important it is.
Well, that point for me is right now.
As reported Monday by The Denver Post, a commission that reviews criminal laws suggested the repeal of a Colorado law that makes it a crime to steal free-distribution newspapers, arguing that the papers have no value. The commission’s decision came Friday.
Under the law, according to The Denver Post, at least five newspapers must be taken, and those found guilty can face hefty fines depending on how many newspapers were stolen.
The law also makes it so newspapers, advertisers and readers can sue those who steal the papers.
The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice didn’t see it as a worthy law.
“We came up with this proposal after a more than comprehensive discussion about free stuff being laid out on the sidewalk and Westword magazines,” said Doug Wilson, the state public defender and a member of the commission, according to The Post. “If the Fourth Estate wants to put their stuff out there, I mean, I can look at it on the Internet. I can take it out of a vending machine.”
What Wilson’s shortsighted comments fail to acknowledge is that this issue is much larger than taking a few copies of Westword magazine, a Denver-based entertainment publication, for whatever reason or simply looking at something on the internet. It’s about the possibility of somebody disagreeing with something the newspaper has written and making the effort to prevent the community from reading it by stealing all of the available copies, which is not out of the realm of possibility.
Such a situation in 2004 in Eagle County made it so that this law could be passed. In that case, the newspapers were deemed abandoned property and had no value.
If somebody doesn’t like what a newspaper has written about, there’s a very simple solution: don’t read it. But if that person goes so far as to steal all of what we’ve written so that others can’t, that person needs to be prosecuted.
And that’s where my argument comes full-circle; the First Amendment grants myself, others at The Mirror and those at newspapers, free or otherwise, around the nation, to write about the news or voice our opinion without fear of consequences. Stealing newspapers is a form of censoring, exactly what the “freedom of the press” aspect of the First Amendment is designed to prevent.
I’m sorry if you don’t like what the newspaper has to report, but it’s our job to report it. We’re not going to stop.
Free newspapers shouldn’t be regarded as having no value; they have value to those who produce the publication. It’s a disservice and an insult to the journalism profession and the journalists themselves to say that stealing a newspaper isn’t a crime.
- Parker Cotton is a senior journalism and sociology major and the editor-in-chief of The Mirror.