Village Board Members Sworn-In

Trustee Brandon, Mayor Ostenburg, Trustees O'Neill and Kopycinski after Swearing-In Ceremonies Monday night. (Photo: Ross Brazzale) Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)— Mayor John Ostenburg … Read more

News Racks: More Important Than You Might Think

gene-polcinski-050607 By Gene Policinski
First Amendment Center vice president/executive director

Streetside news racks — those ubiquitous metal or plastic boxes that dispense newspapers and informational publications of all types — may seem an anachronism in the high-tech Internet era.

But in fact they remain a significant method of distributing news and information to Americans — a handy, reliable news source for busy commuters, quick-stop shoppers and millions of those still without or who just don’t want regular Web access. For lower-income citizens, those simple machines are a convenient and affordable method of getting the news on a regular basis.

And for all Americans, these modest news dispensers are a constitutionally protected — and economically important — element of a free press. The right to publish without government control must include the same freedom to distribute without government restraint — and that distribution has to be free to be economically viable or it’s just another method of censorship.

Put another way, using yet another freedom under the First Amendment, of what true value is freedom of speech without the freedom to be heard?

Weather, vandals and the occasional errant motorist pose regular threats to these free-standing vendors. But occasionally, the danger comes from another source:  local officials concerned with issues ranging from pedestrian safety to street-level beautification efforts to finding new sources of revenue.

The latest flap comes in Nashville, Tenn., where on May 16 Mayor Bill Purcell vetoed a Metro Council proposal to make 20-plus local publishers pay fees and maintain news racks in order to place them on Music City street corners and other locations.

Purcell cited First Amendment concerns in his veto message, calling the ordinance “an abridgement of a free press.” Courts have upheld some ordinances that affect news racks as an “incidental” part of their purpose — such as laws creating historical zones where such racks did not exist in the designated era. But from local courtrooms to the U.S. Supreme Court, from Lakewood, Ohio, to Atlanta to Cincinnati and beyond, judges have held that municipalities do not have unfettered power over how we receive our news, or what kind of news we get, from news racks.

In Nashville, rack regulators would charge a $50 initial fee and a $10 annual fee thereafter, which on its face appears to make the ordinance a money-raising proposal. But the sponsor of the bill speaks more of eliminating sidewalk clutter, making removal or prevention the focus. So the fees seem more a means of restriction and regulation rather than a method for revenue.

A hallmark of American law and constitutional protection is that government does not have the power of “prior restraint” on the things Americans write and publish. But that protection falls short if citizens don’t have ready access to what is written and published.

In that vein, it’s not a stretch to say the same logic that wouldn’t permit the government to prevent The New York Times and Washington Post from publishing news of the Pentagon Papers won’t accept legislation intended to choke off access to a free press on a public street.

It would seem common sense that news racks that block pedestrians from using city sidewalks simply could be relocated off to the side, and that poorly maintained boxes would be dealt with voluntarily. Whose business wants to be associated with a shabby and unsightly image? As to abandoned boxes: Well, if there’s no “free press” using the box, there’s no free-press issue.

The Nashville ordinance and others like it may appear simply to involve a mundane aspect of daily urban life — regulating so-called “street furniture.” But the mayor’s veto racks up a win for one of our highest ideals: Under the First Amendment, government doesn’t get to play editor or publisher in the newsroom or on the street corner.

Falwell’s legacy: A First Amendment freedom affirmed

When the Rev. Jerry Falwell died on May 15 he was lionized and criticized for his labors in religion and politics, as the founder of the Moral Majority and of Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va.

But his legacy also includes one of the more significant First Amendment cases in the nation’s history, stemming from a lawsuit he brought against Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt over a parody — a fake liquor advertisement — that featured Falwell in the magazine in 1983.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell that without a showing of “actual malice,” Americans are free to satirize public figures — affirming an American tradition that began with the nation’s earliest “journals of opinion,” which often published scathing images of politicians whom they opposed.

In an Aug. 18, 2004, taping of the First Amendment Center’s television program “Speaking Freely,” Flynt said he rejected his lawyer’s advice to settle Falwell’s lawsuit out of court — and gave his view of what his Supreme Court victory meant:

“I remember Justice Rehnquist's words even so clearly today,” Flynt said. “He said, ‘Simply because the government finds speech offensive does not give them the right to repress it.’"

Flynt said a loss would have meant “no public figure would ever have to prove libel. All he would have to do is go into a court and prove you hurt his feelings. Whether it's a political cartoonist or an editorial writer or what have you, you know. The press would have been virtually doomed.

“I don't think it was the Supreme Court siding with me over Reverend Falwell. I think that they were looking at the practical implications of the decision if they would have ruled the other way,” Flynt said.

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New Ownership “Relaunches” Air America Radio

Network begins "I'm an Air American!" campaign with Paul Newman ad. AAR Hosts interview 30+ Headliners for Official ReLaunch on May 21-22, including: Clinton, Edwards, Obama, Richardson — as well as Steinem, Sorensen, Newman, Nader, Stephanopoulos, Spitzer, Bloomberg, Waxman. Nancy Scola hired as chief blogger.

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)– May 17, 2007– Air America Radio today released a new website and ad campaign in conjunction with the official "ReLaunch" of Air America 2.0 on Monday May 21. All 12 Air America hosts starting on the 21st will air some 30+ taped interviews with prominent headliners (see list below) who discuss their thoughts on the Iraq war, campaign finance reform and the ’08 election, among other topics. 

"The completely redesigned website will give Air America listeners another platform to participate in the progressive movement through an interactive blog where they can read and give commentary on topical issues of the day," said Mark Green, the new president of Air America; the site will also be easier to navigate with updated information about AAR shows and talent.

The network's hosts will begin to regularly blog on the 21st ReLaunch, along with Nancy Scola, who has been chosen as Air America's chief blogger.   Nancy Scola is a Brooklyn-based blogger and writer who has served as a congressional aide and a presidential campaign staffer; she writes widely online, on everything from the latest in technology policy to the rebuilding of New Orleans.  

The network also kicked off a new “I'm an Air American!” ad campaign in various radio trade publications, featuring the actor Paul Newman, as well as a series of talent-based ads beginning with Lionel, who joins the network from 9a-12p.

The two new weekday shows include "Lionel" and "The Air Americans" hosted by veteran Mark Riley, with correspondents Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, David Bender and Laura Flanders, airing at 8p-12a weeknights. The new weekend shows include "Seder on Sunday" from 4-7p Sunday and "7 Days in America" 6-7p Saturdays, a week-in-review show with Arianna Huffington, Mark Green, Bob Kerrey and Bob Shrum.

"This new phase in Air America's three year history has three goals," concluded Green.  "First, we’ve created an even stronger lineup based on proven veterans, like Randi Rhodes, Thom Hartmann, Rachel Maddow, and The Young Turks. Second, we’ve rebuilt the website to create a community and conversation that becomes the go-to progressive bulletin board and social network in the country. And third, we’re asking all progressive patriots interested in talk radio to become 'Air Americans.' The critical mass of 30 headliners kicking off Air America 2.0 is the kind of news and views that we'll be offering for years to come and that no other radio or TV network now provides."

Air America Radio is the national progressive entertainment talk radio network.  It is broadcast on 64 stations nationwide and on XM satellite and can be heard via live Internet streaming on www.airamericaradio.com.

The guests interviewed include:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg
David Brooks
A.G. Jerry Brown
Ron Brownstein
Senator Hillary Clinton
Howard Dean
Senator Dick Durbin
Senator John Edwards
Senator Russ Feingold
Al Franken
Senator John Kerry
Tony Kushner
Josh Marshall
Chris Matthews
Markos Moulitsas
Ralph Nader
Paul Newman
Senator Barack Obama
Rep. Charles Rangel
Robert Redford
Senator Jack Reed
Gov. Bill Richardson
Anthony Romero
Liev Schreiber
Rep. Louise Slaughter
Ted Sorensen
Gov. Eliot Spitzer
Gloria Steinem
George Stephanopoulos
Joe Trippi
Rep. Henry Waxman
Rep. Anthony Weiner

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