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King County Executive News

King County Executive News
Dec. 20, 2010

Executive calls for review of policies on non-commercial bus ads

Interest groups make ad buys that leverage media coverage; ensuing controversy distracts from core mission of providing bus service

King County Executive Dow Constantine today called for a review of Metro Transit policies on non-commercial advertising that appears on buses:

"From time to time, interest groups have exercised their right to free speech by making a small transit ad buy and leveraging that purchase to provoke news coverage worth many times their investment.

"In light of these incidents, I've asked Metro Transit to review its policies governing non-commercial bus advertising.

"The purpose of transit advertising is to bring in revenue needed to keep the buses running. These provocative ads bring in a negligible amount of revenue, but cost hundreds of hours staff time to address the intended controversy - time that is better spent providing bus service.

"Our state and federal constitutions protect speech, including unpopular speech, and limit a government's ability to regulate advertising content.

"As a government agency, Metro Transit is more constrained than a private party, like a newspaper or TV station, in its ability to reject a particular advertisement. We all understand that individuals may find text or graphics used in advertising to be offensive or contrary to their own personal beliefs, but the appearance of any advertisement on a bus should never be construed as an endorsement by King County or Metro endorsement of, or value judgment on, the message being advertised.

"Having accepted non-commercial advertising generally since 1973, our attorneys have repeatedly advised that Metro is legally constrained in its ability to accept or reject an advertisement based on the identity of the group purchasing the advertising, or the message.

"Any policy change needs careful review to ensure there are no unintended consequences. Metro is now conducting an expedited and thorough review."