Signs of the Times - Observer Censors Classified Ad
August 2000
Media/2000: Observer Censors Classified Ad
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"When Jeffrey M. Peyton purchased The Charlottesville & Albemarle Observer in late March, speculation was rife. How would the weekly newspaper change under someone who used to write for the Christian Coalition? Many Charlottesvillians wondered if Peyton would let his beliefs affect the paper.

Well, he has. Peyton used his editorial privileges to print his opinion on abortion and has taken ads for the Charlottesville Chapter of the Virginia Society for Human Life, a pro-life organization. Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge is stunned. But not because of Peyton's stance against abortion.

The group wanted to print a classified ad for a medical assistant's position at its clinic on Arlington Boulevard. The newspaper's response was simple: The publisher does not support Planned Parenthood's work and therefore won't do business with the organization.

David Nova, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge, wanted to discuss the issue with Peyton, but despite 'frequent calls' to the newspaper office, Nova got no response.

'I think what surprised me was the lack of explanation and unwillingness to talk about it,' Nova says. 'Even the protesters outside our building will engage in civil discussion. By refusing to talk with me, he's provided no opportunities to come to some higher understanding.'

Based in Roanoke, Planned Parenthood serves the New River Valley, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville. Nova says more than 90 percent of clients seek family planning services- birth control annual examinations adoption referrals, and pregnancy tests. Only a few clinics perform abortion services. The Charlottesville clinic, Nova points out, does not provide that service.

Why hasn't Peyton returned Nova's phone calls?

'He only called me once, and I've been busy,' responds Peyton. 'I've got a stack of people to call back, and he's on the list. Frankly, I'm surprised that you got through to me.'

It's not just Planned Parenthood advertisernents he wont accept. Peyton says he's also rejected the Virginia Lottery because he doesn't believe in gambling.

'I'm a family-oriented person,' he says, 'and I want this newspaper to reflect that. People get in the newspaper business to affect the community. All newspapers have their slants or political opinions. In the grand scheme of things, this is no big deal.'

But when C-VILLE interviewed Peyton after he purchased the paper in March, he said, 'The Observer is not going to be either conservative or liberal.'

'The Observer is not Conservative or liberal,' Peyton still maintains. 'We're pro-family.'

Planned Parenthood had been advertising with the Observer for about 10 years...until Peyton bought the paper in March. Nova says that until now he's never had any problems.

When Catherine Peaslee launched the Observer in 1978, she wanted to publish a newspaper that would offer more local news than The Daily Progress.

'When I was running it,' says Peaslee, 'I tried to be helpful - not controversial. The duties of a newspaper are to be a source of information and records. You do those things first, and then if he wants to indulge in ideological discussions, he can. But I wouldn't do it.'

Peyton insists he has offered dialogue on the abortion issue. In the past two issues of the Observer he's printed letters to the editor criticizing his pro-life editorial,and he printed a letter by Planned Parenthood board member and Charlottesville resident George Loper criticizing his ad policy" (Brigitte McCray, C-VILLE Weekly, August 15-21, 2000).

 Cartoon Accompanying Article in C-Ville Weekly

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