As anyone who's followed the antics of Adbusters or PETA knows, it's hard to buy airtime for your commercials if your message conflicts with the world view of television executives. Now MoveOn.org has joined the ranks of the rejected when CBS refused to air MoveOn's paid ad Bush in 30 Seconds during this year's Super Bowl.
CBS claims that Bush in 30 Seconds and another ad from PETA are too controversial to air during the Super Bowl.
CBS broadcasts on the public's airwaves. In return for that lucrative privilege, the Communications Act of 1934 requires CBS and other broadcasters to broadcast in "the public interest, convenience and necessity."
In 1969 the Supreme Court upheld the FCC Fairness Doctrine requiring broadcasters to air alternative viewpoints (Red Lion Broadcasting v. the FCC). The Fairness Doctrine provides that a broadcaster has an obligation to treat 'controversial issues of public importance' fairly, and to present all sides of such issues during the course of their programming. The remedy it provides is that the FCC can order a station being complained about to present the opposing points of view, although the FCC generally leaves it up to the station to decide how this is done.
Now the CBS network claims that the ad, which shows children working at menial jobs and ends with the words "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?", is too controversial for Americans to see. Who exactly does CBS think is going to pay off the deficit? CBS isn't paying for it, and they get to use our airwaves so they can make obscene profits. I know I don't have a trillion dollars in my checking account. When you're talking about a huge public debt with compound interest, you're talking about payments that are going to extend over a generation, so who exactly is CBS trying to kid?
Even if it is in President Bush's interest not to air the ad, censorship is not in the public interest. CBS needs to rethink this one, and they've got 24 hours left before the kickoff to swallow a little pride and do the right thing.
After all, a small, activist web site almost certainly HAS $2.3M to blow on a 30 second commercial. It's not as if this is just some cheap publicity stunt.