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CTA Bans Ads for Violent Video Games, Politics

By Emily Morris | May 8, 2013 12:11pm | Updated on May 8, 2013 2:00pm
 The Chicago Transit Board voted to ban certain ads from CTA properties.
The Chicago Transit Board voted to ban certain ads from CTA properties.
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Flickr/Bob Vonderau

CHICAGO — Saying its trains and buses are "not public forums for debate," the Chicago Transit Authority voted Wednesday to ban political ads and ads for mature video games, TV shows and movies.

The CTA said in a statement it allows ads as a way to raise money — not as a way to get a political message out.

“CTA buses and trains are not public forums for debate," said CTA President Forrest Claypool. "These guidelines make clear the purpose advertising has for the CTA and defines more precisely what is acceptable advertising on our system and what is not.”

The Chicago Transit Board voted to only allow ads in three categories: commercial and promotional; government; and public service announcements. Those PSAs will be limited to non-profits with messages related to health, welfare and education.

As opposed to a public space such as a park, where people can choose to walk away from something they think is offensive, "if there's a form of advertising on our trains or buses, that's a captive audience," said CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase.

The CTA said the new policy will "remove some of the burdensome time that must be spent on reviewing advertising that is questionable in nature." Less than one percent of its ads, the CTA said, were public issue or political in 2012. Those ads brought in $100,000.

The CTA has previously tried to ban certain ads, but in 2010, a judge overturned the transit authority's ban on video games rated adult or mature for violent or sexual content, ruling that such a restriction violated the right to free speech, the Tribune reported at the time.

Designating the transit authority as a non-public forum could protect the CTA from receiving a similar legal slap. Restrictions on speech in a non-public forum generally only need to be reasonable and viewpoint neutral.

To make sure its new guidelines are within the law, the CTA expanded its anti-discrimination guidelines to include all groups of people, and not just specific groups such as race or gender, Chase said.

Chase said the CTA's decision was "something we've been looking at for a while" and came after reviewing the guidelines of other transportation agencies. Some transits that have decided similar bans on such ads include TARTA in Toledo, Ohio, and SMART in Southeast Michigan.