Think again

Published 12:25 am Thursday, July 28, 2011

Washington officials are contemplating banning newsracks and magazine boxes from public sidewalks in the city’s business-historic zoning district, basically the city’s downtown area.

It should come as no surprise the Washington Daily News opposes such a ban. With First Amendment rights being increasingly threatened, the Daily News must take a stand opposing this proposal, which surfaced locally a little more than two years ago.

Planning Board members contend the newsracks and display boxes obstruct pedestrian traffic on downtown sidewalks. When’s the last time you heard of someone tripping over a newsrack? If newsracks are banned, what about those benches and trash cans the city has placed along public sidewalks in the downtown area?

Board members suggest placing newsracks and display boxes inside shops, restaurants and businesses. What happens when someone wants to buy a newspaper or pick up a free magazine, only to find the doors to the shop, business or restaurant locked?

City merchants spend their hard-earned money to put ads in publications. Shouldn’t those publications be available to the buying public close to those merchants? After all, downtown is the heart of the city’s economic engine, and that’s according to one board member.

Wes Nicholson, with Bella magazine, had this to say to the board earlier this week: “To me, if you’re trying to encourage business, why would you make it any harder? To reach people is hard enough, as you all know. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to reach those people. Why make it any harder to have people find something?”

When Raleigh-Durham International Airport chose to ban newspaper racks, in part because of safety concerns, the U.S. Appeals Court ruled the ban violated the First Amendment, noting the airport’s concerns about safety “do not counterbalance its significant restriction on protected expression.”

Leave the newsracks and the First Amendment alone.