Newspapers Decry Box-Regulation Plan

Article excerpt

Byline: Jabeen Bhatti

A private business group's push to regulate the location and look of newspaper vending boxes in downtown D.C. is leaving newspapers big and small puzzled and concerned.

The Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District (BID) has proposed a plan to institute an annual $60 fee per vending box for publications, and to regulate the type, number and location of the boxes. Proponents of the plan, introduced Wednesday by D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, say that something has to be done to help clean up business districts because the city has failed to take action.

" . . . a comprehensive and creative approach to managing commercial activities in public spaces is best for the city and for the users of the public space," said Roberto Alvarez, a member of the executive committee of the Downtown D.C. BID and president of Cafe Atlantico and Jaleo.

"We were hearing so many complaints from vendors, property owners and managers, retail tenants, citizens, arts groups and city officials about the activities that take place on downtown sidewalks, and about each other, that we suggested that [this] was the only way to reduce tensions and create a better environment for everyone."

But newspaper publishers say the restrictions will hinder their sales and ability to distribute - thereby restricting free speech.

"Newspapers must be able to reach their readers," said Kathryn Sinzinger, editor and publisher of local weekly the Common Denominator. "Readership drives a newspaper's ability to disseminate, to attract the dollars necessary to keep publishing. When you restrict [that], you eliminate our ability to function as what the Constitution of the United States intended us to be - a free press."

Miss Sinzinger and other news organizations testified before the D.C. Council's consumer and regulatory affairs committee Wednesday that the fee might make it unfeasible for small newspapers and other businesses to survive.

USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, the Washington Afro-American, the Washington D.C. Informer and the Common Denominator testified against the bill because of the economic constraints it would place on publishing and the physical constraints it would place on the public's access to the news.

"It hurts my ability to manage my boxes," said Edgar Brookins, general manager of the Afro-American. "I need the flexibility to move the boxes when sales drop."

The Afro-American has almost 100 boxes. …