Key West Citizen Strikes Back

Cooke Communications, the company that owns the Key West Citizen and other publications, has escalated its battle with Key West Community College, taking the institution to task in court and in print.

And the precedent it is hinging its case on involves former Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro, the publicity-seeking ex-lawman who now runs a security company in town.

After KWCC President William Seeker canceled all ads in the Citizen for what he deemed unfair coverage, the newspaper has filed suit against the college claiming it violated its rights under the First Amendment. Explained the newspaper's attorney, Tallahassee-based Robert Rivas, in a Citizen article this morning:

"When a government agency withdraws its advertising from a newspaper, while specifically admitting that its withdrawal is a punishment for the government's disapproval of the newspaper's coverage, the courts at all levels in this country have held that that's a violation of the newspaper's basic constitutional right not to be punished by the

government for what it publishes. The law is so clear that I am sure Mr. Seeker did not seek legal advice before he wrote a letter admitting to such serious wrongdoing."

Rivas cited a 1991 Broward County case involving former Navarro, who canceled advertisement in the Broward Review after negative coverage. The newspaper sued and was awarded $270,000 in damages.

Says John Kent Cooke Jr., whose Cooke Communications company owns the Citizen and other publications, of Seeker's move: "This action is a blatant violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and will not be tolerated."

In another of Cooke's other publications, the weekly Solares Hill, Editor Nancy Klingener defends the newspaper's coverage (unfortunately her piece can't be linked directly because the newspaper comes only in PDF form), writing that "it's an honor to work for a company that doesn't cave to bullying with public funds because the institution can't control the coverage it receives in the local paper."

She adds that she hopes that "one day in the foreseeable future the Seeker era at FKCC will end and perhaps then this community, with its economic challenges, its talented populace and its rich resources will get the institution of higher education it needs and deserves."

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