The Associated Press reports that three newspaper sales representatives were charged with aiding and abetting prostitution after selling ad space in an alternative weekly’s back pages.
Among the more damning evidence police claim to have are videotapes of Orlando Weekly employees selling advertising space to undercover officers openly claiming to be prostitutes.
The paper claimed that the charges are retaliation for several articles critical of their investigation into strip-club prostitution and drug dealing. The articles alleged that during their investigation, police faced accusations of groping dancers and mishandling evidence while experiencing little success in stemming area prostitution.
The First Amendment ordinarily protects publishers from liability for an advertisement in such cases, so long as it does not, on its face, alert the publisher to a clearly identifiable risk of harm to the public. However, if the police have evidence that the paper collaborated with the prostitutes, the First Amendment may not provide a safe harbor for the paper.