By: Mark Fitzgerald
CityBeat, the alternative weekly in Cincinnati, is suing the city’s police chief, a county sheriff, three county prosecutors, and others, claiming they are violating the paper’s First Amendment rights by pressuring it to stop running “adult services” ads.
“The involvement of government officials, especially law
enforcement types, presents a clear threat to our ability to run our
business as we choose,” CityBeat Editor and Co-Publisher John Fox told E&P.
CityBeat filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. It named more than 30 defendants, including clergymen and others affiliated with Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a group that opposes pornography and sex-related businesses.
In June, the group held a press conference and issued an open letter demanding that CityBeat drop its classified ads for massage parlors, escorts, and other allegedly sex-related businesses.
“There is no question that the adult classifieds of their print and online editions consist primarily of solicitations for prostitution and promotion of businesses that front for prostitution,” CCV President Phil Burress said at the time.
The press conference followed raids on “spas” in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky that allegedly were running prostitution operations. Law enforcement officials at the time said many of the raided spas were advertisers in CityBeat.
And the CCV letter alleges that the paper and its Web site citybeat.com “have become primary avenues through which the sex-for-sale industry in greater Cincinnati markets their destructive services.”
Fox said the paper is used to criticism from CCV, which was founded in 1983, but that it was troubled by the participation of such law enforcement figures as Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis, Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher, and three county prosecutors.
“The message to us was loud and clear: Stop running all adult-oriented ads or the area’s top cops and prosecutors will come down hard on CityBeat,” Fox wrote in an editorial on the paper’s Web site.
Fox noted that the same adult services ads run in the Yellow Pages delivered to every household in the metropolitan area, while CityBeat must be picked up by readers and its Web site requires user to attest they are at least 18 years old before allowing access to adult-oriented ads.
It’s “preposterous” to claim that CityBeat is abetting prostitution while running ads for legal activity, the paper argues. “What’s next?” Fox wrote. “Will local law enforcement demand CityBeat ban all bar and club advertising because some people get arrested for DUIs after visiting bars?”
CityBeat is represented by H. Louis Sirkin, the local First Amendment
attorney who successfully defended the Contemporary Arts Center and its director in 1990 when they were charged with obscenity for mounting an exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe.