Sunday, January 30, 2005

Censorship? What Censorship?

The Washington Times today has a front-page story about church leaders and conservatives who are fretting about how the media -- both print and broadcast -- are engaging in a kind of "censorship" by denying religious advertisers the opportunity to place their advertisements on TV or in magazines like Rolling Stone.

The article ("Churches decry 'commercial censorship'"), written by correspondent Donna De Marco, begins:

The ongoing controversy between the media and religion heated up this month with Rolling Stone's initial rejection of an ad for a new version of the Bible.

The decision was reversed, and the ad will run next month, but religion-based advertising is becoming an increasingly heated issue as morals and ethics move to the forefront of the political debate.

The media, whether broadcast or print, have the right to turn down ads, but religious organizations and church groups say that right is a form of censorship. They say media must act in the public's interest and not dictate what can or cannot be seen and heard.

It then goes on to list several examples of this "censorship." And in every single example, the media outlet that initially refused to run an ad ended up relenting, permitting the advertiser to place the ad either in its original form or with minor changes.

The complaints have a sort of ironic misdirection, since they emanate largely from conservative groups.

Why is that? Well, for instance, one of the most widely publicized cases of "censorship" was an ad from the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination, which wanted to demonstrate its inclusivity. The ad shows, among other things, a gay couple being turned away by a beefy bouncer at another, unnamed church's door -- along with Hispanic, black, and handicapped individuals. That ad was refused by "liberal" networks NBC and CBS, but accepted by "conservative" Fox. And, the Times notes, "CBS and NBC did accept a second ad from the UCC that ran at the end of December. " (You can see the UCC ad here; click one of the options under "Watch 'Bouncer' commercial.")

So what's the beef? If the complainers can't come up with a single example of a refused ad placement that sticks, they have no complaint.

Moreover, let's not forget that the publications and broadcast outlets have a right, acknowledged by the First Amendment to the Constitution, to control their own message. Do the religious groups want to see a day when their church bulletins must carry advertising for Satanic cults and sex toys?


Tim said...

Do the religious groups want to see a day when their church bulletins must carry advertising for Satanic cults and sex toys?I know I do!

Romeocat said...

[rolling eyes at Tim]

No, I think Rick's right about this. Frankly, I think it was a bit of a stupid dust-up... I mean, "Rolling Stone???"

But people forget about the fine line of private property w/r/t censorship. Telemarketers, for instance, do *not* fall into a protected group. Yes, they have the right to advertise. I, on the other hand, have the right to reject their presence on my property via the phone line.

And, no, I *don't* want a satanic cult - or NAMBLA - taking out an ad in my church bulletin!

Excellent post, Rick.