A&A: Can I Sue A Newspaper Over Censoring a Paid-For Obituary?

Q: Can I sue a newspaper for refusing to publish a full-page obituary that I was paying for. I used two naughty words, and I refused to back down. Their paper is laden with foul and vulgar words, usually, just for effect. Mine was a commentary about the social forces that caused the death of the subject of the obituary.

A lawyer told me I cannot sue a private paper? Then what are my options? I will not take out the naughty words and there is no other paper in town who would dare publish it.

A: Whoever told you that you could not sue the newspaper for refusing to publish the obituary as written was giving you sound advice.  “[T]he courts have long held that the right to control the content of a privately published newspaper rests entirely with the newspaper’s publisher. The First Amendment protects the newspaper itself, and grants it a virtually unfettered right to choose what to print and what not to.”  Eisenberg v. Alameda Newspapers, Inc., 74 Cal. App. 4th 1359, 1391 (1999).

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation. No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.

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