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UI prof: Liquor ad case won't significantly harm student papers

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | NOVEMBER 30, 2010 7:20 AM

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A court ruling in Virginia, which will ban alcohol advertisements in the state's college newspapers, will likely not affect Iowa or local college newspapers, according to a University of Iowa professor.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to not review the ruling handed down by the Fourth Circuit of Appeals in Virginia, according to an American Civil Liberties Union press release. The case will be remanded to district court.

The Collegiate Times on the campus of Virginia Tech University and the Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia argued two of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board regulations restricting the ads violate their First Amendment rights, according to the Fourth Circuit of Appeals April ruling.

They will also argue the ban has affected the newspaper financially and targets a very narrow area of the media, said Peter Velz, editor-in-chief of the Collegiate Times.

"[The] intended effect is to target a small demographic of our paper," Velz said, noting that the majority of his paper's readership is over the age of 21.

Velz said the Collegiate Times is optimistic because the lower court has ruled in the paper's favor before.

The district court sided with the newspapers, though that decision was overturned on appeal.
In its press release, the ACLU said that although the ruling is directed toward establishments — it essentially tells bars they can't advertise in students newspapers rather than prohibiting newspapers from running the advertisements — it also puts both college newspapers at a disadvantage for ad revenues with other newspapers.

"The government never presented any evidence that the bans on alcohol advertising reduce underage drinking, so college newspapers should have the same right as other newspapers to obtain revenues from alcohol ads," said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg in the press release.

UI Associate Professor Lyombe Eko, a free-speech expert in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said advertising is protected by the First Amendment, but it has less protection than political or social speech.

"The courts said that media outlets have a duty to the public, if an ad of that nature poses danger to the public, the media are responsible to not publish the ad," Eko said.

Eko said it is possible for a college newspaper to be sued after publishing an alcohol-related advertisement if a student is harmed, but it is not likely because of the mass amount of resources needed for such a case.

He noted that the revenue argument the Virginia papers are using might not hold much weight. For example, when tobacco advertisements were banned, it "didn't turn out to be that devastating" for newspapers, he said.

"Newspapers across the country have problems," he said. "Definitely, this is not going to be the last straw that breaks the camel's back. I don't think this is going to cause the collapse of newspapers."

And many UI students are even more apathetic. Some said underage drinking will occur whether or not newspapers run such advertisements.

"How many people under 21 even read a newspaper?" asked UI junior Emily Sullivan.

DI reporter Sam Lane contributed to this report.


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