University statement on Stanford Daily students arrested on June 5

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Given the importance of the freedom of the press, we take seriously the concerns raised about the fact that two Stanford Daily staffers were among the 13 individuals arrested for occupying the president’s office building at Stanford. However, the circumstances of these arrests were not the typical scenario of student journalists reporting on a protest in a public venue. Rather, both Stanford Daily staffers were among a small group of individuals barricaded inside a locked office building, after gaining unlawful entry. They had no legal right to be there, under the First Amendment or otherwise, and the conduct in this case was deeply problematic. 

At around 5:30 a.m. last Wednesday, a group of individuals broke a window to enter an administrative building on campus that houses the president’s and provost’s offices, along with a handful of support staff. Even during normal business hours, aside from a small lobby for visitors waiting for their appointments, the building is not open to the public or the campus community, but rather consists of private offices. At 5:30 a.m., of course, the entire building was closed and locked.

After entering the locked building via the broken window and knocking down interior doors to gain access to locked private offices, protestors damaged and vandalized offices and their contents. Surveillance video shows that a number of individuals entered the building but then left before the protestors who wanted to be arrested began barricading themselves inside. No journalists (or protestors) were arrested outside the building. Everyone who was arrested was barricaded inside the locked building. 

One of the two Daily staffers inside the building was, according to the paper’s editors, a news managing editor who was not there to report but instead in her personal capacity as a protestor intending to be arrested. We assume there can be no objection to her arrest. It is unclear whether there was any relationship between her presence as a protestor and the presence of other Daily staff at an early morning building occupation, but it is certainly an unusual confluence of events and raises some serious questions of journalistic ethics. According to the Daily, the paper had received advance notice at around midnight the night before of a protest likely to lead to arrests and had been invited to accompany those intending the criminal activity. Again, according to the Daily, after meeting up with the protestors, the two reporters proceeded to the building to be occupied. There, one reporter apparently remained outside the building, while another reporter joined the protest group barricaded inside the private offices (including the third Daily staffer on site, the managing news editor who was participating in the protest).

We are disappointed in the conduct of the Daily staffers on this occasion. The integral involvement of one of their managing news editors in the occupation of the building as a protestor (regardless of whether that individual was recused from coverage of Israel-Gaza issues, as their editors assert in their editorial) is certainly concerning. The fact that the two reporters knowingly came along for planned criminal activity is also deeply concerning. And we would expect even a student journalist to understand that they had no right to be barricaded inside the president’s office. Indeed, we would expect quite a bit more of the Stanford Daily, which has historically been one of the best college newspapers in the country. 

It is quite clear that the Daily reporter had no First Amendment or other legal right to be barricaded inside the president’s office. While California Penal Code 409.7 was enacted to protect the rights of journalists to report on protest activities under California law and provides more extensive protections than does the First Amendment itself, this statute provides no assistance to the Daily reporter here and indeed illustrates the degree to which this conduct was beyond the bounds. First, the statute applies when peace officers "establish a police line, or rolling closure at a demonstration, march, protest, or rally where individuals are engaged in activity that is protected pursuant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution." The First Amendment does not protect the right to break, enter, and/or trespass in a locked private building, and this case did not involve a police line or rolling closure. Further, the statute provides that in circumstances where it applies, journalists "shall not be cited for the failure to disperse, a violation of a curfew," or resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer. Here, the salient conduct was none of these. Finally, the statute explicitly states that "[t]his section does not prevent a law enforcement officer from enforcing other applicable laws if the person is engaged in activity that is unlawful." This provision plainly applies here. 

Indeed, as explained by the Student Press Law Center’s website on "Know your rights when covering a protest," while journalists have a right to video and photograph events from public areas, "being a journalist is not a license to jaywalk, trespass on private property, block automobile traffic or otherwise violate laws that apply to everyone else." Stanford is a private university and has even greater rights to control access to its property than a public university would under the First Amendment. But even if Stanford were a public university, the student reporter in question would have had no lawful right to be barricaded in the president’s office and roaming through the offices. 

Accordingly, we do not agree with the claim that the rights of the arrested Stanford Daily reporters have been violated in this instance. 

Since the time of the arrests, the university has been engaged in reviewing the evidence received to-date. We believe that the Daily reporter reporting from inside the building acted in violation of the law and University policies and fully support having him be criminally prosecuted and referred to Stanford’s Office of Community Standards along with the other students. Stanford will not attempt to intervene in the investigation or decision-making of law enforcement authorities and will not withdraw the reporter’s referral to the Office of Community Standards.

However, after reviewing the evidence, we do not believe he presents an immediate threat to the health and safety of campus, so his interim suspension and campus ban will be lifted. We reserve the right to reinstate the suspension and campus ban if further evidence comes to light of his intention and role in these activities. 

Finally, we have serious concerns that it appears that junior reporters were acting at the direction of senior editors. We suggest that the Daily provide its reporters and editors with stronger training so that they better understand and appreciate their responsibilities as well as rights as journalists so that they might avoid such problems in the future.

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