A STUDENT newspaper at Australia's University of Queensland is defending a controversial article that provided shoplifting tips to cash-strapped students. The piece, "The Subtle Art of Shoplifting," was published in the student newspaper Semper Floreat on Saturday. The newspaper has been in existence since 1932, and is one of the most reputable student newspapers in Australia.

In the piece, the anonymous writer advised readers on "frifting," or "free shopping." As explained by the writer, frifting is "a legitimater." The tips included wearing a mask and covering identifiable markers like piercings and tattoos. Frifters are advised to go to whichever self-serve machine is closest to the staff monitoring them and take off the metal tags.

Among the tips were instructions for students to target large corporations over "Ma and Pa" joints and to only take what they need. It also suggested stealing during peak hours to avoid unwanted attention and assuming fake identities to effectively rob stores. The piece ended with a final edict to "be sure to leg it if all else fails."

The piece generated a firestorm of controversy that has since gone viral. Australian public officials quickly condemned the article. Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace said it ought to be withdrawn. Shadow Education Minister Christian Rowan said encouraging people to commit criminal offenses would lead to anarchy.

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But the newspaper has refused to back down. Editor in Chief William Kugelman wrote an op-ed saying that Semper Floreat stands by its "decision to publish the hypothetical safe shoplifting guide. Increasingly, people are forced into impoverishment and homelessness, while the ruling class, governments and corporations, enjoy the fruits of the working class' stolen labor," he wrote.

The entry included a response from the anonymous author, stating: "We're in a housing crisis, experiencing the highest cost of living and lowest wages rates since World War 2 and yet the wealthiest keep getting wealthier — forcing people to live in tents, consolidating their monopolies on housing, starving people on stagnant levels of center link support and inadequate minimum wages."

Semper Floreat Editor in Chief Kugelman said the "hypothetical" guide to shoplifting helps students amid rising costs of living. Mr. Kugelman said he did not believe there were any legal concerns with the article going to print, but there had been intense discussion between the paper and the student union over a separate piece — the paper's centerfold.

He also skirted any legal responsibility for the issue, blithely saying that the student union president is the one who should have withheld publication. But since the student union president dithered, he just went ahead and published the anonymous piece.

Hypothetical case

We do not know if the student newspaper has a faculty adviser, who could have told off the brash editor in chief that reports and articles should be by-lined and their facts checked and counter-checked. Moreover, he said this was just a "hypothetical piece," so we think its proper place should be in the Comments section of the opinion-editorial page of the student newspaper.

Additionally, the editor in chief seems to be coming from a lens that views the class contradictions in society which is well and good, since university students are taught to analyze the way things are so that they can improve the state of affairs once they are in the swim of things. He also seems to be advocating a Robin Hood type of activity, of stealing from the rich (and the middle-class business owners) to level the playing field for the poor students.

But students have always been poor in many universities, save those with trust funds or with rich and corrupt parents. But they make do with what they have: eat oatmeal, invent many dishes with cheap potatoes and eggs, read library books so they do not have to buy expensive textbooks, work as tutors and dog walkers to have cash.

When push came to shove, the editor in chief said that it was just a satirical piece. However, it lacks the stellar qualities of satire, which are wit and humor cutting as knives. In this sorry example, we only have one rusty blade in a cabinet of knives.