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Judge allows exclusive distribution of government newspaper

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    NMU         PENNSYLVANIA         Press at Home & Abroad         Feb 4, 2000    

Judge allows exclusive distribution of government newspaper

  • A government-sponsored newspaper can still be distributed in areas where sales of other publications are prohibited, despite challenges from local and national newspaper publishers.

A federal judge in Philadelphia on Feb. 2 ruled in favor of a governmentally-distributed daily newspaper that recently faced a lawsuit from other area publications alleging it was violating the First Amendment.

Federal District Judge Robert F. Kelly denied a request for the second time in two weeks to block distribution of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) Metro tabloid. The motion was filed by Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., the New York Times Co. and Gannett Satellite Information Network Inc.

The publishers felt the deal struck between SEPTA and Metro, the product of a Swedish Company, was unconstitutional because it allowed the paper to be distributed in areas where other publications cannot be sold and is promoting governmental control over a newspaper.

According to the Associated Press, in a five-year contract, Metro guaranteed SEPTA a minimum of $30,000 per month in advertising revenue and $15,000 per month in costs to help clean up discarded newspapers. In exchange, Metro is to be distributed at 852 locations in SEPTA’s coverage area. The contract also states each issue must conform to SEPTA’s editorial and advertising policies.

The free tabloid offers local and national news coverage in short two to three paragraph articles. It now has a circulation of 150,000 copies.

Kelly refused to grant the temporary restraining order sought by the publishers stating in his order that they “failed to show that they will suffer immediate and irreparable harm.” Without this evidence, Kelly decided a restraining order would have a greater adverse effect on SEPTA and the public than the distribution of Metro would have on the publishers. The newspapers are appealling the decision.

(Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. SEPTA, Michael Schwartz, Philadelphia)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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