Court: No To Atlanta’s Official News Racks

By: Todd Shields

Olympics. The United States. It was a special time in a special place, but, still, the city had no right to dictate where newspapers could be sold and what advertising they must support.

So ruled a series of jurists in a series of judgments stemming from Atlanta’s attempt in 1996 — related to its hosting of the Olympic Games — to rid Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport of all but official news racks, with each bearing advertising for hometown-giant Coca-Cola Co.

The city’s plan was “frightening. … To think that a government could say, ‘Put your newspaper in Coke racks, and we control what’s in the racks,'” Atlanta Journal-Constitution Publisher Roger Kintzel told E&P last week.

The latest opinion in the long fight came down last month. A three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower-court finding that Atlanta’s plan invited government censorship and compelled newspapers to support Coca-Cola.

The legal fight pitted the city’s aviation department against Atlanta’s Journal and Constitution, along with The New York Times and USA Today. They all objected after the city’s airport authority in 1996 dictated rack placement, rack design (including the Coca-Cola ad), and the right to select which publications would be sold from the racks, while imposing a monthly rack fee of $20.

The newspapers won several injunctions in 1996 to keep the plan from going into effect. The city shows no sign of giving up the fight — it has asked the entire 11th Circuit Court to review the Jan. 4 ruling.

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