The Daily Californian‘s news blog reported on October 30 that 3,000 copies of the student paper went missing from a central distribution point on the University of California at Berkeley’s campus early last Thursday morning.
At about 8 a.m. on Oct. 28, a distribution team member arriving to pick up a stack of the newspapers from the sidewalk south of Sproul Hall on Bancroft Way found the papers – 3,000 of The Daily Californian‘s approximate 10,000 daily circulation – gone from the distribution point. Another team member returning to Sproul for additional papers confirmed the missing stack.
Diane Rames, general manager for The Daily Californian, has estimated an initial lost value of $2,000 for the organization, including costs for both the newsprint and advertising refunds or write-offs for lack of delivery of the 12-page edition.
The Senior Editorial Board’s candidate endorsements for this week’s midterm elections had been published online early Thursday morning, but the article was not actually printed until the November 2 edition, so the exact motivation behind the theft is unclear.
Sadly, the Berkeley campus is no stranger to newspaper theft. The Daily Californian printed a rousing editorial in 2002 condemning the vandalism suffered by a fellow Berkeley student publication, The California Patriot. The Daily Californian itself has been targeted several times, including an infamous case later that year in which Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates admitted to stealing 1,000 copies of an issue containing the editorial board’s endorsement of his opponent. After this scandal, the Berkeley City Council passed an ordinance specifying that the theft of free newspapers is illegal under city as well as state law.
The current case was reported to the local police, who are investigating the incident.
This latest theft at Berkeley is part of a disturbing national trend of college press censorship. FIRE has been involved in several egregious cases over the past few years, including newspaper thefts at American University, Texas A&M University, and the University of Arizona among many others. In the worst cases, university officials refuse to investigate or even to condemn the thefts. At American, one of the perpetrators even openly admitted to stealing the newspapers. By refusing to defend their student publications, these colleges are tacitly teaching students that censorship is an acceptable way to deal with unfavorable or unflattering press. These students will be in for quite a shock when they enter the real world; I defy any one of them to steal a stack of issues of The Wall Street Journal or the New York Times!
FIRE hopes that Berkeley officials and police will quickly identify the newspaper thieves and take the appropriate disciplinary measures. Regardless, they should condemn this act of censorship, and the $250 city fine should make it sufficiently clear that silencing the student press is not an acceptable way to express dissent on campus.