CBS practices censorship?

Many of you watched the Super Bowl Feb. 1. Besides all the action on the field you were bombarded with what was touted as the best of television advertising.

There were ads produced by the American Legacy Foundation, the folks that put out the anti-smoking messages, at least three ads for drugs to treat erectile dysfunction; ads for big gas-guzzling SUVs and lots of other “stuff.”

But there was something you did not see. It was a MoveOn advertisement critical of the Bush administration’s budgetary policy.

CBS, which carried the Super Bowl broadcast, decided it was “too controversial” and could not air it over its network.

The message was created by Charlie Fisher of Denver. It is a 30-second spot showing a montage of many small children working at the kinds of jobs they may be doing decades in the future. As guitar music plays in the background, a message fills the screen: “Guess who’s going to pay off President Bush’s $1 trillion deficit?”

With the administration’s new budget being revealed on Monday, that figure is higher.

Network honchos decided it violated their policy of no advocacy advertising. Or, as one observer put it: “There is to be no criticism of the Emperor during the Circus.” Bread or no bread.

It didn’t bother the network bosses at all to run an advocacy ad from the White House, though a message from the Office of Drug Policy encouraging teens to snitch to the law on their pot-puffing buddies.

One year ago, the same office aired a Super Bowl ad alleging that drug users (presumably not the users of erectile dysfunction drugs) are supporting terrorism. CBS thought it was just fine.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich and 27 other congressmen disagreed. They sent a letter to the top dog at CBS outlining their views.

In part, the letter said: “Issue ads are commonplace and important for democratic debate. Yet, CBS seems to want to limit that debate to ads that are not critical of the political status quo, and in the case of the MoveOn ad, of the president—and by extension—the Republican-controlled Congress. Apparently, CBS feels that the topic covered in this paid advertisement—the federal government’s budget crisis—is inappropriate or irrelevant for American viewers, despite being one of the most critical issues of the day.”

Voice4Change asserts “an ad by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals was censored as well,” from appearing during the Super Bowl.

Many were outraged by what wasn’t censored during the Super Bowl—mainly the baring of Janet Jackson’s breast by Justin Timberlake. Even the FCC expressed its disapproval.

CBS is the property of Viacom, a global media conglomerate that also owns and controls MTV, Nickelodeon, BET, Paramount Pictures, Showtime, Comedy Central, Blockbuster, Simon&Schuster and many other media companies.

Viacom’s revenue in 2002 was $24.6 billion. Figures for last year have not yet been released.

The decision on the anti-Bush ad was almost certainly handed down from conglomerate headquarters.

The congressional letter asserts there is a disturbing pattern on the part of CBS to fold up and carry out the demands of the Republican National Committee. It refers in particular to the CBS ruling last fall that a biographical program about former President Ronald Reagan would not appear on the network because GOP leaders thought it not flattering enough to Reagan.

The letter stated: “Perhaps not coincidentally, CBS’s decision to censor the Reagan program and to deny airtime to this commercial comes at a time when the White House and Republican Congress are pushing to allow even greater and greater media concentration—a development from which Viacom stands to benefit handsomely. The appearance of a conflict is hard to ignore. There may not be a fire here, but there certainly is a great deal of smoke.”

Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, writing in a publication called Capitol Hill Blue, said: “CBS doesn’t serve the public interest when it rejects an otherwise appropriate advertisement because, in the opinion of the network’s managers, the ad’s message is too politically controversial. This is especially the case when the network broadcasts equally controversial political advertisements during the same program for which the rejected ad was intended. Critics ask is it possible that “too politically controversial” really means “harmful to CBS’s corporate interests”?

Concerns may be voiced to the CBS Comment Line at 1-212-975-4114.

Sources:;; Capitol Hill Blue-Paul Campos;

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