Tales of the Sausage Factory: CBS & NBC Out Conservative Fox

Viacom, the network that has vowed to fight the FCC’s indecency fine for the Jackson/Timberlake “Wardrobe Malfunction” all the way to the Supreme Court in the name of free speech, has rejected this advertisement by the United Church of Christ as “too controversial,” as has NBC. Fox, the “conservative network,” had no problems, nor did the ABC Family Channel. What gives? Disturbing implications discussed below.

You can get the basic story (and see my insightful quote at the end) in this article in Newsday. I discuss the more disturbing, to me at least, implications below.

Some full disclsoure. United Church of Christ (UCC) has been a frequent client of MAP’s fighting media ownership and pushing progressive policies. Historical info here for those interested in UCC’s involvement as a pioneer in social justice in the media.

CBS has rejected the advertisement as controversial because they argue that it appears to endorse gay marraige. If you just look at the ad, I’m not sure how you get from “we welcome gay couples along with everyone else” to “we endorse gay marraige and think everyone else should” (which is what you would have to do to get to an “advocacy ad” under CBS’ stated policy). But CBS made the leap of faith, as it were, as did NBC. (ABC, as noted in the article, doesn’t take any religious ads, but ABC Family Network is running it).

People have been very concerned about the chilling effect of the indecency campaign — because God knows if we couldn’t see simulated sex on Married By America our democracy might crumble. But I am far more concerned about the pandering to the perceived sensibilities of the right that has infected the networks, particularly CBS.

As some of you may recall, CBS has a very bad track record over the last year and a half on caving in to the right. Last year, Viacom moved a miniseries critical of Ronald Regan from CBS to Showtime. Then they refused to air an anti-Bush ad during the Superbowl. Now, CBS has moved from pandering to the party in power to pandering to what it perceives as the “moral values” crowd on gay marraige, and so has NBC.

Meanwhile, Fox, the supposedly conservative network, has run the ad. So did the ABC Family Network, which is still home to religious conservative programming like the 700 Club.

So what is going on here? It looks like the supposedly “liberal” media, who are not actually liberal but simply megacorps devoid of any particular ideology but raising shareholder value, have become hypersensitive to what they think will cause offense to the theoretical droves of “red state” conservatives that now supposedly rule the country.

Of course, they follow this policy with typical corporate cluelessness. They are not addressing any of the indecent programming that has family values types really steamed (wanna bet we’ll see a “Desperate Housewives” clone on both networks next season, and that CBS will continue to run its sweeps staple “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show?”), but they are doig real damage to the ability of the public to see diverse viewpoints.

This harms our democracy as a whole. Worse, it makes you raise a serious eyebrow about things like news coverage. Will CBS and NBC go even softer on coverage of the administration, Iraq, bad economic news, etc. because it now has an official policy of pandering to the 51% of the electorate that voted Republican? (or maybe less if you believe what you read on the Internet).

As the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago:

[The First] Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society. Surely a command that the government itself shall not impede the free flow of ideas does not afford non- governmental combinations a refuge if they impose restraints upon that constitutionally guaranteed freedom….Freedom of the press from governmental interference under the First Amendment does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests.

Like it or not, most Americans rely on television for their news and information. When only a few powerful megacorps control the vast majority of these outlets, democracy becomes hostage to their editorial decision. If that decision is to cease challenging the incumbents in power and instead to meekly serve their interests, then our ability to govern ourselves as a free people is diminished.

Stay tuned . . . .

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