Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Faith-Based Communicators React to CBS, NBC Nixing of Church Ad

Last week, one of the big stories was the rejection by NBC and CBS of an advocacy ad from a religious group. The twist, of course, was that the United Church of Christ was selling a message of tolerance and open acceptance of gays.

I am reminded of that old saying about politics making strange bedfellows. It seemed to me on reading about this situation that liberal indignation was likely to have unintended consequences.

December 3, 2004, NEW YORK CITY - Responding to the refusal of the CBS and NBC television networks to air a message from the United Church of Christ, a nationwide group of faith-based communicators has issued a statement challenging the networks' action as "arbitrary" and contrary to the principles of freedom of speech and equal access to media.

The statement was drafted yesterday by the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches USA, an ecumenical association of professional communicators serving a wide range of Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox faith groups. The statement reads:

"The controversial issue here is not the content of the ad, but the arbitrary standards of the network gatekeepers. Church doors are open to all who would come; but broadcast channels are increasingly closed to all but the wealthy and well-connected.

"It is important to note that the broadcast networks are not being asked to give free time to the United Church of Christ to express its message - the church is ready to pay dearly for that privilege, even though the networks do not pay for their highly profitable use of the broadcast spectrum.

"The Federal Communications Commission, in giving free access to the public's airwaves to commercial corporations - with virtually no strings attached - has handed them powerful control over America's media "public square." The for-profit keepers of that square are all too willing to promulgate messages laced with sexual innuendo, greed, violence, and the politics of personal destruction, but a message of openness and welcome that merely says "church doors are open to all" is being silenced as too controversial!

"Advocacy advertising abounds on TV: agribusinesses, drug manufacturers, gambling casinos, oil companies, even some government agencies regularly expose viewers to messages advocating their products and programs, in the interest of shaping public attitudes and building support for their points of view.

"Are only the ideas and attitudes of faith groups now off limits? Constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and freedom of speech, not to mention common fairness, beg for leadership by the FCC to assure that America's faith community has full and equal access to the nation's airwaves, to deliver positive messages that seek to build and enrich the quality of life."

If the UCC's message is OK on the public airwaves, who's isn't? Can Jerry Falwell run message ads? David Duke? Grover Norquist?

Careful what you wish for.


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