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Can newspapers refuse to run a letter, column or advertisement?

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Yes. Newspapers have a First Amendment right to refuse letters to the editor, as well as ads and submitted columns.

Since most newspapers are privately owned entities, whose editors have editorial control, they are free to promote whatever political, social or economic view they wish.

The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of editorial control and freedom of the press in 1974 in the case Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241.

This case concerned a Florida political candidate who brought suit against The Miami Herald pursuant to the state’s “right-to-reply” statute after the paper refused to print the candidate’s reply to editorials critical of him.

The statute in question required a newspaper to provide equal space to a political candidate to reply to any criticism of the candidate’s personal character or official record printed by the newspaper.

The Supreme Court found the statute to be unconstitutional in that it violated the First Amendment right to a free press.

At the risk of sounding condescending, there is a reason for this Constitution lesson.

Last week, I pulled the Democratic column that was submitted for publication. I will not apologize for nor defend my decision.

However, I will offer an explanation and counter the claim that what I did was censorship and in violation of the Constitution.

Bill Pack, our managing e ditor, explained it best.

“We are pulling all the Democratic and Republican columns in the Bulletin, through the end of October, in large part because the columns from both parties had been asserting more extreme partisan viewpoints in the leadup to the election. Newspapers, in the interest of fairness, strive to avoid publishing controversial reports about specific candidates that they or their supporters can’t respond to before the election occurs. That, newspapers hope, would keep large numbers of voters from changing their minds about specific candidates based on partial, biased and incomplete information,” Pack wrote in response to the decision.

“I understand this decision may not be received well by those who are writing the Democratic and Republican columns for us, but we feel it was a decision that was necessary at this time.

We appreciate all the work Democratic columnists have done for the paper and hope you and others will continue to submit them for our readers after the General Election.

“I believe that our readers count on seeing differing points of view on our Editorial page, and I am glad that Democratic columnists have taken it upon themselves to continue to see that the Democratic viewpoint is highlighted regularly in a fairly solid Republican county.

“I understand the Bulletin’s publisher has encouraged those writing our columns to strive to focus more on local issues and leaders, and I agree that would be helpful and more beneficial to our readers going forward.”

The columnist who writes the Republican Column every other week for the Bandera Bulletin received the same information about the reasons behind the decision to pull the political columns during October.

We look forward to additional columns expressing Democratic and Republican viewpoints beginning in November.