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Airport ban on news distribution enjoined third time

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Airport ban on news distribution enjoined third time08/12/96 GEORGIA--In late July, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that city officials…

Airport ban on news distribution enjoined third time

08/12/96

GEORGIA–In late July, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that city officials had come “perilously close to criminal contempt” by stopping delivery of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution at the Hartsfield International Airport because drivers lacked the proper security clearance, after another federal judge had prohibited officials from enforcing restrictions on newspaper racks and newspaper deliveries a week before.

In a series of orders, the two judges ruled that the airport violated the newspaper’s First Amendment rights by first requiring publishers to replace their newspaper racks with government-owned stands, and then preventing newspaper delivery men from filling the racks with papers.

In mid-June, the city announced that new regulations going into effect weeks before the Olympic Games required publishers who wanted to distribute newspapers in the airport to pay $20 each month per unit to rent a newsrack covered in ads for Coca-Cola’s Olympic City.

The Journal-Constitution refused to lease the newsracks and filed suit against the city in early July. Federal Judge Willis Hunt issued a preliminary injunction, holding that the restrictions were not reasonable and that placing large ads on the racks not selected by the paper “raises legitimate First Amendment questions.”

In addition to charging a fee, the city said it would determine the location of the racks and the number of racks leased by each paper. The city also said the lease could be terminated without cause by either party with 30 days notice.

After the judge issued his order, however, airport officials told the newspaper that they could not place racks in the locations where they had been placed before, according to Peter Canfield, the paper’s attorney. Willis issued a second order the next day stating that the publisher could decide the location of each newsrack, subject only to legitimate safety concerns. The first order did not address location of the racks and said only that the department can not require newspapers to use city-owned racks.

A week later, after the newspaper’s racks had been installed, officials at the airport told delivery men that they could not deliver the papers because they did not have security clearance. Federal District Judge Ernest Tidwell, acting in Willis’s place, held a hearing and ordered the airport not to interfere with delivery.

Newspapers were in the racks as of early August, Canfield said. He added that a hearing on the merits of the newspaper rack regulations is scheduled for early October. (The Atlanta Journal and Constitution v. Atlanta Department of Aviation; Media Counsel: Peter Canfield, Atlanta)