Dec. 3, 2004
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Tenn. (UMNS) — The refusal of CBS and NBC television networks to air a
30-second ad from the United Church of Christ calls attention to the
power that major media outlets have to block free speech, said the top
executive of United Methodist Communications.
two networks have refused to run the commercial because the
all-inclusive message “implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples,”
according to the United Church of Christ.
is not about gays and lesbians; this is about the constitutional rights
of a responsible organization to exercise the freedom to speak on a
medium licensed to serve the public interest,” said the Rev. Larry
Hollon, top executive with United Methodist Communications, the
denomination’s communication agency.
decision calls attention to the reality that, for self-serving reasons,
corporations in control of major media are in a position to filter and
even block the legitimate speech by responsible voices,” Hollon said.
November 2003, an ad of welcoming from the United Methodist Church’s
Igniting Ministry campaign was first rejected then accepted by the
Reuters media company for display on a 7,000-square-foot billboard in
New York City’s Times Square. Reuters rejected the ad initially on
grounds that it violated the company’s policy against running religious
or political advertising. Once the policy was made public, other
religious groups joined to support the rights of religious organizations
to speak in the public marketplace.
The ad ran from Nov. 17 to Nov. 30 on the Reuters and Instinet building with a disclaimer that the spot was “paid advertising.”
the time, Hollon expressed disappointment in Reuters’ disclaimer
requirement of “‘paid commercial advertisement,’ which is unlike any of
the other advertisers on the board, signaling out our ad for
disclaimer placed on church advertising shows that faith-related
commercials are still treated differently from other forms of commercial
speech that Reuters accepts, he said.
The Rev. Larry Hollon
“This ability to
decide who can have access to major communications channels is too
important to leave in the hands of a few corporate executives,” Hollon
said about the United Church of Christ ad. “Broadcast licenses are
granted based on serving the public interest. We have moved away from
this principle. It has become virtually meaningless. Important voices
are not being heard. Rather than enabling this diminished free
expression, the government should be protecting it with vigilance.”
ad states that — “like Jesus” — the United Church of Christ seeks to
welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic
circumstance or sexual orientation. The ad has been accepted and will
air on a number of networks including ABC Family, AMC, BET, CNN,
Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land.
United Church of Christ made public a statement it said it received
from CBS. “Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay
couples and other minority groups by other individuals and
organizations, and the fact that the executive branch has recently
proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union
between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on
the (CBS and UPN) networks.”
News reports quoted an NBC
statement that the ad “violated our longstanding policy against
accepting ads dealing with issues of public controversy.” ABC said it
would air the advertisement on its ABC Family cable channel but not on
its broadcast network.
have gotten support from people who have no affiliation with any church
but also from many, many of our ecumenical partners such as the United
Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church, Disciples of
Christ and Roman Catholic,” said Barb Powell, spokesperson for the
United Church of Christ. “Everyone has been very supportive and
reasons given by the networks for rejecting this message should bring a
chill to everyone who supports freedom of religious expression because
they are saying that a fundamental tenet of Christian belief is
politically unacceptable for the public dialogue,” Hollon said. “The
belief that God loves every person without condition is so basic to
Christian teaching that if a denomination cannot make this assertion,
what can it say? Such decisions shut out the Christian community from
the national conversation.
ironic that a gentle message of inclusion is considered unacceptable,
while ads for beer are accepted, and programs in which people eat
insects and worms are considered entertaining. In a divided and fearful
world, this message is not only needed; it could lead to healing.”
outcome of the controversy is that the United Church of Christ’s
distribution center is taking dozens of orders each hour for
identity-related orders, according to a press release from Powell.
the national controversy erupted, the warehouse would expect to fill
only five or six identity-related orders — such as T-shirts and the like
— during a typical day. Because of the explosion of attention in
December, the church expects a record-shattering month of sales, said
Marie Tyson, the United Church of Christ’s distribution services manager
at the denomination’s warehouse in Berea, Ohio.
just coming in every day, saying, ‘How is God going to speak today?’”
Tyson says. “But we’re enjoying it because we’ve never seen anything
like it. Our churches are so excited, so proud.”
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.