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Saturday, October 25, 2014         

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City bus ads: Plus or minus?

Selling exterior ads on Oahu buses aims to raise needed funds, but critics worry that’ll lead to controversial messaging and visual blight

By Christine Donnelly

~~<p>Honolulu commuters may be in for a bumpy ride if the City Council goes ahead with Mayor Kirk Caldwell's plan to sell advertising on the exterior of municipal buses. Although the bill approved on first reading by the Council last week seeks to limit controversial messages, other transit systems have found that easier said than done.</p>
<p>&quot;Government entities in particular can't censor opinions just because somebody considers them offensive, and municipal bus systems are clearly government entities,&quot; explained Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Newseum Institute and senior vice president of its First Amendment Center. &quot;Once the government starts selling ad space, and decides what messages are allowed, that opens the door to content or viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional.&quot; Provocative ads on numerous issues &mdash; abortion, religion, atheism, sex, drugs and spying &mdash; ignited outcry when they appeared on U.S. buses, subways or trains over the past year or so. In some cases, transit systems accepted the ads, recognizing them as protected by the First Amendment. In others, they rejected the ads, were sued, lost and ended up having to run them anyway.</p>
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Honolulu commuters may be in for a bumpy ride if the City Council goes ahead with Mayor Kirk Caldwell's plan to sell advertising on the exterior of municipal buses. Although the bill approved on first reading by the Council last week seeks to limit controversial messages, other transit systems have found that easier said than done.

"Government entities in particular can't censor opinions just because somebody considers them offensive, and municipal bus systems are clearly government entities," explained Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Newseum Institute and senior vice president of its First Amendment Center. "Once the government starts selling ad space, and decides what messages are allowed, that opens the door to content or viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional." Provocative ads on numerous issues — abortion, religion, atheism, sex, drugs and spying — ignited outcry when they appeared on U.S. buses, subways or trains over the past year or so. In some cases, transit systems accepted the ads, recognizing them as protected by the First Amendment. In others, they rejected the ads, were sued, lost and ended up having to run them anyway. Login for more...



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