In New York City, State Senator Daniel Squadron says he wants to save money by changing the rules for public notice publication. The executive director of the NY Press Association, Michelle K. Rea, says there’s more to Squadron’s theatrics than saving a buck:
Squadron is on a mission to eliminate print newspapers – he says his effort is in line with the Mayor’s PlaNYC carbon emission reduction goals. Eliminating the printing, processing and delivery of newspapers will set an example for other municipalities.
Squadron’s purported desire “to eliminate print newspapers” — shared by a surprising number of government rule-makers in disparate places around the country — is obviously a larger threat to the survival of a free printed press than is a proposed reduction or elimination of government’s legal notice subsidy (which is something I’ll discuss on another day).
UPDATE: Sen. Squadron called to set the record straight. He’s looking to eliminate the unique — and expensive — role of the city-owned City Record (a position presumably shared by Ms. Rea). He emphasized that the elimination of newspapers “is not my position.”
“Newspapers have played and will continue to play a vital role” in society, Squadron said.
Look for a further update tomorrow afternoon.
In municipalities; government-controlled airports, parks and mass-transit hubs; and in such privately-owned restricted-access venues as shopping centers and office complexes — whose control over distribution has been allowed to extend onto what used to be public streets surrounding them — newspapers are facing oppressive regulations and outright bans on their ability to distribute.
The right to home-deliver newspapers is also under attack.
These challenges to the ability of newspapers to circulate are direct threats to the public’s right to access information without the purveyor of that information having to kowto to government and political bosses, imperious bureaucrats and real-estate interests.
Such regulations should be challenged head-on — and the public should be informed of its stake in this fight.
If newspapers can’t distribute freely on public streets and to readers’ homes, and if the right to use such distribution channels is increasingly put under the control of politicians and their allies, the public will eventually lack the information it needs to hold the government accountable — which may be an unacknowledged objective of these regulations.
To justify putting the squeeze on newspapers’ right to distribute despite First Anendment guarantees, will politicians stoop to proclaiming that newspapers are, prima facie, an anti-social product irrelavant in the internet age. Ms. Rea suggests State Senator Squadron is pushing this angle.
If newspapers are irrelevant and a personification of anti-Green evil, then goodbye to bad rubbish. Are we ready for that?
While these rules deprive a wide swarth of people of their ability to freely access printed information, they pose an added information penalty on poor and minority communities, where distribution restrictions make finding a newspaper an especially onerous task, and where access to high-speed internet is also less widely available than elsewhere.
For this reason, newspapers should consider litigating distribution rules under various civil rights statutes, as well as using the Constitution’s freedom of the press guarantee to protect access to their readers.
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In North Carolina, the Raleigh News & Observer and three other papers have been fighting an effort by the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority to ban newspaper vending machines from its facilities. The newspapers face legal bills that are reportedly in the area of $300,000.
So far, the courts have ruled in favor of the newspapers (for the text of the latest decision, click here). If the airport authority ultimately surrenders, or continues to loose in court, it may be compelled to pay the newspapers’ legal bill — which, added to its own, totalling more than $800,000.
The Raleigh newspapers made an expensive investment in this fight, risking its treasure when money is especially tight.
Newspaper giants in New York and elsewhere haven’t been willing to do the same.
One reason for the reluctance of the giants to lead the fight may be an assumption that will survive while regulations facilitate the demise of some of their smaller competitors (for the NY Times and USA Today, they’ll always have Starbucks). Remember Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem, which began, “They came first for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for…” Well, you get the idea.