Our View: Poor decision encourages censorship
July 17, 2012
There's a lot of truth to the saying "nothing in life is free." It's certainly true for the free-distribution newspaper the Steamboat Pilot & Today publishes for residents and visitors six days each week, 312 days a year.
While our business model allows readers to pick up a copy free of charge, there's tremendous value in the pages of each day's edition. For advertisers, there is value in the 10,000 copies of the Steamboat Today that get picked up every day by potential customers as well as in the money they spend to promote their brands. For readers, there is value in the news and information that keeps them up to speed on community happenings, government action, court and law enforcement proceedings, school information and more.
We think it's a fool's argument that a free newspaper like ours and the many other free community newspapers across the state are devoid of any actual value. But that's precisely the faulty logic being employed by some members of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, which last week recommended the repeal of a state law that makes stealing free-distribution newspapers a misdemeanor crime.
The law, co-sponsored by then-Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, was passed in 2004 and signed into law by former Gov. Bill Owens. It arose in the wake of an incident in Eagle County in which a citizen upset about a news article published in a paper there stole nearly every copy from newspaper racks. The prosecutor declined to press charges, stating that no crime had taken place because the free papers had no value.
Although incidents of newspaper theft are rare — only five cases have been prosecuted under the law since its inception — the notion that censorship of the news and a community's right to know is OK because of a newspaper's free-distribution business model is disturbing and runs counter to the very foundation of the First Amendment.
There is zero reason to repeal the existing statute. There are many reasons not to repeal it. The naive perspective of some members of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice — one member mocked the Sky-Hi Daily News newspaper by suggesting that no one in its readership area bothers to pick it up — is troubling, but the people of Colorado are fortunate that the final decision doesn't rest with the commission. That will be up to the state Legislature, and we expect Sen. Jean White and Rep. Randy Baumgardner to do their part to swiftly kill this ill-conceived recommendation to repeal.