Student newspaper liberties challenged

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August 30, 2010

10:28 PM

Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Virginia collegiate newspapers are challenging an April 2010 U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling prohibiting collegiate publications from running alcohol-based advertisements.

The ban originated from Virginia’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board, which eliminated all advertising of beer, wine and mixed drinks from college publications. The rule stemmed from a 2008 U.S. district court ruling that opined the regulation as unconstitutional citing the First Amendment right of freedom of the press.

“The Constitution does not allow government officials to infringe on freedom of the press on a hunch,” Kent Willis, ACLU of Virginia executive director, said. “They need a reason, and it needs to be a good one. In this case, there is simply no evidence that the ABC restrictions on alcohol advertising in college papers have any effect whatsoever, except to make it harder for those newspapers to bring in advertising revenues.”

The district court found no evidence that alcohol advertisements influenced the rate of underage consumption on campus, and encouraged universities to seek out other methods to manage on-campus drinking offenses.

After the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the ABC regulation, the ACLU announced it would continue its challenge of the ban by scripting a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Under the First Amendment, the government may not restrict truthful advertising unless it can prove that the restriction directly advances important societal goals,” Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU of Virginia legal direct, said. “In this case, there was no evidence that banning alcohol ads in college newspapers diminishes underage or binge drinking on campus.”

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals countered by claiming that there existed a “common sense” link between alcohol advertising bans in collegiate print and a decrease in consumption.

Glenberg acknowledged that students are swarmed with alcohol advertisements daily through television, radio, t-shirts, magazines and the internet, and that the small fraction of ads printed in collegiate newspapers held no sway on student behavior.

The case originated out of an earlier lawsuit involving Virginia Tech’s student newspaper, The Collegiate Times, and the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily. The Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech, which owns The Collegiate Times, and The Cavalier Daily challenged the ban in “Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech v. Swecker.” Susan Swecker is the commissioner of Virginia’s Alcohol Control Board.

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