Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Has CBS Changed Its Policy Against Advocacy Commercials?

I learned of a new Facebook group today: Tell CBS: Reject the Focus on the Family ad or accept the UCC's!. Here is the group's basic mission statement:
Five years ago, CBS rejected an ad from the United Churches of Christ, deeming that their message - that the church would accept all people including LGBT individuals - was too controversial. A Boston Globe story about their rejection of the ad in 2004 cites a CBS spokesman, Dana McClintock, who made reference to "a longstanding policy of not accepting advocacy advertising."

Now, the news comes out that they will be airing an ad during the Super Bowl from Focus on the Family - a group that firmly stands against a woman's right to choose - featuring Tim Tebow and carrying a distinctly anti-abortion message. This is pretty clearly an advocacy advertisement.

Therefore, this group is asking CBS: Has your policy on advocacy advertising changed?

If not, how is a commercial about a topic that's clearly a matter of public controversy, the question of a woman's right to choose, not considered advocacy advertising while an ad telling people that they'll be accepted at church somehow is? CBS must reject Focus on the Family's ad.

If the policy has changed, integrity demands that CBS offer the United Church of Christ the opportunity they were wrongly denied in December 2004, and give them the chance to buy an ad slot during the Super Bowl to advertise their acceptance of all people.
This new controversy is an interersting one. On the face of it, I really don't care if Focus on the Family is able to air its anti-abortion ad. I question whether its worth their limited resources, given that they've laid off a large percentage of their workforce within the past year.

On the other hand, I never understood the controversy over the UCC bouncer ads. Well, I kind of understood. Different church communities didn't like the inferred accusation that they put up barriers to visitors and members who don't fit the right mold. They also didn't like the assertion that the UCC doesn't have its own barriers to more theologically conservative individuals. I can sympathize with the second concern, but not really with the first one. Spend some time reading the blog comments at Andrew Marin's blog and check out examples of potential bouncers towards gay Christians or non-Christians. Not to spotlight Andrew's readers specifically. It just jumps to mind at the moment. There are many similar examples out there that you can find in blogs or on Youtube. It's their right, but they're certainly church bouncers.

The bigger controversy with the UCC ads was the expense associated with the ads and the long-term dubious results of the gimmicky comma/God Is Still Speaking branding. But that's another complaint for another day.

Truthfully, I doubt that CBS really even considered the UCC's GISS ads when they accepted Focus on the Family's anti-abortion ad. And I certainly hope that they don't turn around and offer the UCC a chance to post one of our GISS ads during the Superbowl, because 1. we can't afford it and 2. I don't believe that the UCC is the counterpoint to either Focus on the Family or anti-abortion advocacy in general.

But I do hope that reconsider their definition of "controversy". And I hope that they express more of a willingness in the future, if offered the opportunity, to accept advertising from the UCC or from similar religious churches or groups that promote acceptance of GLBT individuals and families.

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