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Originally published July 8, 2011 at 8:30 PM | Page modified July 8, 2011 at 11:46 PM

McGinn orders city to suspend ads in Seattle Weekly

The move is part of McGinn's campaign to get Village Voice Media Holdings, the Weekly's owner, to cut back on ads for adult services that could be linked to child prostitution.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on Friday ordered the city to suspend all advertising in The Seattle Weekly.

The move is part of McGinn's campaign to get Village Voice Media Holdings, the Weekly's owner, to cut back on ads for adult services that could be linked to child prostitution.

Both sides said they are set to meet next Friday on the issue.

At stake is at least half of a $158,000 contract with Seattle Center, which advertises events in the free weekly.

In a memo to his communications director, Beth Hester, the mayor wrote late Friday: "I want you to have all the departments suspend their advertising in the Seattle Weekly. They are still playing games with the numbers and underreporting the problem."

The Weekly ran a cover story this week from its parent company taking issue with a campaign by Ashton Kutcher and his wife, Demi Moore, aimed at ending child sex slavery, saying the couple are distorting the facts.

The article said Village Voice Media spent two months investigating the couple's claims that anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 American children are victims of child prostitution. Village Voice Media said it looked at arrests for juvenile prostitution over a 10-year-period in the nation's 37 largest cities and found an average of only 827 arrests per year.

"I don't know how that constitutes game-playing," said Andy Van De Voorde, executive associate editor for Village Voice Media, speaking from Denver. He said the numbers used by activists were exaggerated and have been "subjected to so little scrutiny."

He added: "We have never downplayed the seriousness of teenage prostitution."

Kutcher had launched a Twitter attack on Village Voice Media, noting a lawsuit brought by a 15-year-old victim last year who alleges ads on Backpage.com contributed to her exploitation.

Backpage.com features links to adult escort services, including personal ads in the Seattle area.

"Frankly, they need to do a better job on their screening policies for Backpage.com," mayoral spokesman Aaron Pickus said.

In response, Van De Voorde said, "We have more than 100 people whose sole job is to screen ads." And they notify law-enforcement authorities whenever they suspect anything illegal, he said.

Van De Voorde said the mayor's decision to suspend ads was "unusual" given the scheduled meeting next Friday. "But we certainly look forward to sitting down and talking with the city," he said.

McGinn and Seattle Police Lt. Eric Sano held a news conference July 1 calling on Village Voice Media to strengthen its policies against underage sexual exploitation in its ads. The mayor said four local cases of child prostitution have been linked to ads on the website.

The Seattle Weekly also puts some escort ads on its back print pages.

Pickus said all city departments have been asked to determine how much they spend in ads with the Weekly. The Seattle Center is believed to be the largest buyer of ads, with the contract for $158,000, Pickus said. The city is halfway through the contract, he added.

In his memo, McGinn added: "I might change my mind after we meet with them next week, but for now I want everything pulled."

Jeff Hodson: 206-464-2109 or jhodson@seattletimes.com.

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