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Can Anyone Save Us From Gas Station TV?

By Wendy Kaminer

        Silence, or relative silence, in the form of freedom from increasingly ubiquitous public tv's, is rapidly diminishing, along with our ability to think straight, I suspect.  Some people can tune out the clatter and chatter of ads, celebrity gossip, and a little news more readily than others, but none of us are ever really alone with our thoughts with tv's glaring and blaring at us.   Now, having invaded elevators, taxis, and, worst of all, airport lounges, (where it is virtually impossible to find a tv free space to read a newspaper while you’re suffering a flight delay,) tv's are about to invade gas stations.  

        “Gasoline stations from Worcester to Arlington, Leominster to Stoughton, will soon be glowing with televisions, according to Gas Station TV, the Michigan company responsible for the flat-screens on the Pike,” the Boston Globe reports.  “David Leider, chief executive officer, said the company expects to open 50 locations in the Boston market in the next month.  And Fuelcast Media Network, a gas station television provider based in Los Angeles, expects to enter the fray in Massachusetts by late summer …The screens, which were installed last week at Gulf gas stations on the Pike and are the first at Massachusetts gas stations, offer news bytes, sports highlights, and the latest Hollywood gossip.”   But the “driving force,” is advertising.  

        You can’t turn the volume down or change channels while you’re stuck at the pump, the Globe report adds.  “Here, advertisers hawking soda have potential customers right where they want them: a short walk away from a mini-mart selling their product. For these reasons, local drivers are about to see a lot more TV at the pump in the coming weeks and not just on the Pike.”

        I realize, of course, that gas stations are not meditation spaces; still, we don’t enter them for the purpose of being barraged by ads.  Yes, commercial speech is protected by the First Amendment, but like all speech, it may be subject to time, place and manner restrictions, which could arguably be applied to these gaseous tv's that we cannot control or even escape.  The audience is literally captive, as the CEO of Gas Station TV bragged to the Globe: "We like to say the consumer is tied to the screen with an 8-foot rubber hose for five minutes."   Exactly.  Gas Station TV is an exercise in power, not First Amendment rights.


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