About 18 months ago the city of Mobile passed an ordinance aimed at curbing the Press-Register’s willy-nilly tossing of bags of pre-printed advertising onto yards, driveways and sidewalks across the Azalea City, which Mayor Sandy Stimpson fingered as one of the city’s major sources of litter.
For a time it seemed the ordinance had done some good, but over the past couple of months the familiar blue bags bearing “Gulf Coast Life” have begun to appear in larger and larger numbers again, and those who have tried to have them stopped have been unsuccessful. Still, to date it appears the city hasn’t issued a single ticket to those responsible for tossing these unsolicited pieces.
Lagniappe co-publisher Ashley Trice has been working for more than a month to keep “Gulf Coast Life” from being thrown in her driveway, but to no avail. This week she called the city’s 311 number and was curtly told “we don’t have any control over that” and was told they could only refer her to the Press-Register, which she and her husband had already called repeatedly. Frankly, it seems like nobody has control over this.
Cities around the area have passed ordinances aimed at stopping the Press-Register from having these advertising circulars tossed to those who don’t want them, but the P-R’s parent company, Advance Publications, has threatened lawsuits against any municipality that infringes on their “First Amendment rights.”
In August, Daphne became the latest city pass an ordinance. We hear now, though, that company attorneys are threatening a lawsuit.
Newspapers across the country have found legal shelter in distributing such advertising publications. By wrapping the ads with a couple of pages of canned copy, they have been able to claim a bag of advertisements is actually a newspaper. They then claim a First Amendment right to throw their “newspapers” to people who haven’t requested them.
Mobile had suggested a situation in which those who wanted the circulars could “opt in,” but the P-R balked at that. The last circulation figure we have on “Gulf Coast Life” says more than 200,000 are thrown each week in Mobile and Baldwin counties, which means a lot of advertising dollars for the company, even if a large percentage of those handbills are tossed into garbage cans or wash into storm drains and wind up in Mobile Bay.
One area it seems the city could explore is the provision in its own ordinance, which states:
“Newspaper means any newspaper of general circulation as defined by general law, any newspaper duly entered with the Post Office Department of the United States in accordance with federal statute or regulation, and any newspaper filed and recorded with any recording officer as provided by general law; and, in addition thereto, means and includes any periodical or current magazine regularly published with not less than four issues per year and sold to the public.”
In shorthand that means “Gulf Coast Life” should have its own postal permit and also be sold to the public. It might be worth it for the city to look into whether GCL meets those requirements.