Court hears arguments in alcohol ad case

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia used to prohibit college newspapers from advertising alcohol, but the ban was struck down last year. Now the commonwealth wants it put back.

The case went before a three judge panel at the Court of Appeals in Richmond. The Attorney General's Office, representing the ABC board, argued that banning alcohol ads from college papers would cut down on underage drinking. But the ACLU, arguing on behalf of the student papers at UVA and Virginia Tech, said the effect would be different.

"When you ban advertising in one narrow segment of the media, in this case college student newspapers, the advertisers just put their ads somewhere else to try to reach the same audience," said Rebecca Glenburg, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director.

The ACLU made reference to a lower court that made the ban a violation of free speech. Only to have the Attorney General's Office argue that "The student newspapers have no first amendment right to advertise alcohol."

"Specifically, this concerns things like kegs being for sale at local grocery stores and drink specials at local bars. Now, common sense dictates that you are advertising those products because you want to reach an audience, primarily of underage drinkers. And the commonwealth doesn't want to encourage that," said David Clementson, Office of the Attorney General Spokesperson.

The ACLU also said the ban would hurt the ability of independent student newspapers to make money, and stay in business.

"Before the state restricts people's free speech, it needs to try to find ways to solve its problem without restricting free speech," Glenburg said.

The commonwealth, on the other hand, believes the papers can make enough money by selling ads for other things.

"We're confident that the state agency, ABC, will have their regulations upheld," said Clementson.

Each side made their arguments for about twenty minutes apiece. A decision could come within a few weeks, but it could also take several months. Neither side seems to know how quickly the court will act.

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