The Cavalier Daily, Collegiate Times gain ability to publish alcohol ads
After seven-year legal battle, appellate court sides with University student paper, Virginia Tech publication
After a seven-year legal battle, an appellate court ruled Wednesday in favor of The Cavalier Daily and Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times, allowing the two publications to publish advertisements for alcoholic beverages in college newspapers.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Wednesday overturned a previous regulation by the Virginia ABC, which prohibited university newspapers in the state from printing advertisements for alcoholic beverages. The publications began to pursue a case in 2005, arguing the regulation infringed upon the newspapers’ first amendment rights, and officially filed a complaint with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union in 2006.
“We were contacted by the Collegiate Times in 2005, and they told us about this regulation,” said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia. “We took a look at it and agreed that it was unconstitutional, and we wrote a letter to ABC and did not get a satisfactory response from them. So we filed a suit in 2006 on behalf of the Collegiate Times and The Cavalier Daily.”
The ACLU supported the case of the University paper due to its opinion regarding the press’s role within the school and the overall community, Glenberg said.
“We think that college student newspapers play an important role in covering issues that are of particular relevance to a University community,” Glenberg said. “And that unique voice is diminished when college newspapers are not allowed to pursue the same streams of revenue that other newspapers are allowed to pursue.”
Though no other university publications in the state of Virginia are protected by this ruling, it could technically apply to any school’s newspaper in which more than half of the readership is of legal drinking age, Glenberg said. The court recorded 60 percent of the Collegiate Times readership is 21 years or older, as are 64 percent of The Cavalier Daily’s readers.
Before Wednesday’s ruling, the two University publications were at a disadvantage to other local newspapers, which had the option of gaining advertising revenue through business with alcohol producers. The college papers were prohibited from published any advertisements involving wine, beer or mixed drinks, unless it was within the context of a restaurant ad. The phrase “happy hour” was deemed taboo and subject to censorship.
“It was just very unfair and it seemed very apparent that it was a violation of the paper’s first amendment rights,” said Mike Slaven, a College graduate of 2007 and editor-in-chief of The Cavalier Daily at the time of the initial lawsuit. “It was just very clear to us that the Virginia ABC didn’t have any real grounds to have a regulation like that.”
Slaven said when he traveled to Richmond one December morning of 2006 to present a deposition of the case, he happened upon a copy of the C-ville Weekly in Alderman Library. On the back cover of the publication, he saw a full-page color ad for beer.
“It was completely ridiculous that the Virginia ABC would argue that they could achieve anything good by preventing us from advertising for alcohol, when students are exposed to those kind of advertisements in other places all the time,” Slaven said. “It was damaging our rights and it was also damaging the bottom line of the paper, which is an aspect that cannot be ignored either.”
When the case first began in 2006, the Cavalier Daily estimated a 5 to 8 percent raise in advertising revenue if the paper were able to run advertisements of alcohol. Though seven years later those numbers are uncertain, the business team and editors of the Cavalier Daily expect an improvement in commercial revenue from the court ruling.
“Any additional source of revenue, particularly given the decline in print revenue, is something we need to look into,” said current Editor-in-Chief Kaz Komolafe, a fourth-year College student.