Nashville publishers object to proposed news-rack limits

By The Associated Press,
First Amendment Center Online staff

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A group of Nashville publishers wants a third party, rather than the city, to regulate newspaper racks on downtown streets.

Publishers of The Tennessean, The City Paper, the Nashville Scene and several other publications proposed the plan after complaints about the racks obstructing pedestrian traffic.

Metro Councilman Mike Jameson has co-sponsored legislation that would let Nashville charge publishers $50 per rack for initial permits and $10 per year after that.

Several publishers agreed to an alternate plan that would pay the Nashville Downtown Partnership $10 per rack a year. The nonprofit organization would monitor the racks for safety and proper maintenance, said Ellen Leifeld, president and publisher of The Tennessean.

“The authority would be under a third party that’s nongovernmental, which is the key issue for us,” she said. “We don’t think a new bureaucracy should be set up in Metro government to regulate the press.”

Leifeld and other publishers have said government fees would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits governments from regulating or restricting the press.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill Purcell told The City Paper that the mayor also believes the measure would violate the First Amendment.

Jameson has said Metro Council attorneys said the legislation was constitutional.

Jameson said the publishers’ plan is limited to downtown, but the problem exists in other areas in the county such as near Vanderbilt University and parts of Madison.