An Editorial by Eric Jensen
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit in Richmond District Court on behalf of The Cavalier Daily and Virginia Tech’s student newspaper, The Collegiate Times. The two publications are suing the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) for the right to run alcohol-related advertising, which is currently banned in student publications. They point out that alcohol-related advertising could be a significant source of revenue for the two papers.
The two newspapers, together with the ACLU, are arguing that their audience includes a number of students, faculty and staff, or Charlottesville residents who are over the age of 21, and that the paper is not predominantly marketed to an underage audience. Rebecca Glenberg, attorney for the ACLU who is handling the case, stated when asked for comment, “It is our position that there is no evidence that the prohibition on alcohol related advertising in college newspapers actually advances the government’s interest in preventing underage drinking and over-consumption of alcohol.”
Cavalier Daily columnist Cari Lynn Hennessey went so far as to say in a 2005 opinion column that “the ban does nothing to protect college students from drinking culture, while it selectively punishes student newspapers for a reality that is far beyond their influence.” She goes on to say, “But above all, the issue at stake is one of freedom of speech.” Cari Lynn Hennessey, and the Cavalier Daily, seem to think that while “the Cavalier Daily [has] attained independence without revenue from alcohol-related advertising,” other, struggling papers might be able to use such funds to “make a significant difference.”
One might point out that the mere fact that University students cannot be wholly insulated from “drinking culture” fails to support an argument in favor of an onslaught of advertisements glorifying the “drinking culture.” Even more disturbing, however, is the notion that a student newspaper should become a mechanism of social change.
The Cavalier Daily has taken it upon themselves to decide that the “drinking culture” is pervasive and harmless. They have decided that they ought to be able to profit from it, and they have decided to divert time and resources to a lawsuit against the state in support of “free speech.” The Cavalier Daily should promote the free exchange of ideas, but it should not promote it’s own financial interests over the health interests of the University’s students, especially when the speech in question is not an essay, editorial, news article, or a comic, but an advertisement.
As a final matter, there is a startling lack of transparency on behalf of an organization that preaches transparency and student government. While the ACLU does not charge legal fees to it’s clients, it does negotiate “issues regarding the costs of litigation,” and includes those arrangements in a confidential retainer, according to Rebecca Glenberg. There is truly no way for the student body to tell what resources are being diverted away from the news, and into the Cavalier Daily’s budget battle with the Commonwealth.