CBS rejected a Super Bowl advertisement from MoveOn.org, saying the ad violated its advocacy rules. MoveOn's ad uses images of children working at adult blue-collar jobs to point at the possible long-term consequences of the federal budget deficit. Executives at CBS, which is owned by Viacom Inc., said the rejection stemmed from a 1950's policy prohibiting the showing of advertisements that take stands on controversial public-policy issues. Martin D. Franks, an executive vice president of CBS found that the MoveOn.org ad was politically divisive and addressed "matters of the public debate where there are discernible sides, and we don't want those who have deep pockets to have an undue influence on the debate." Nevertheless, CBS has aired political advertisements in the past, such as last yearís drug policy advertisement that linked drug sales to international terrorism. Political ads scheduled to run this year on CBS address such issues as anti-smoking, and a commercial from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
As the law stands today, there's no legal recourse for groups denied the chance to buy themselves a spot on network television. Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard summarized network policy as follows; "The rules are exactly what the owner of the news medium wants them to be, and they are not rules, they are simply choices. For many news organizations, the rules are governed by such things as taste and accuracy. In the case of some, the question of taste slips over into finding the message disagreeable or believing that the audience would find that message disagreeable. The long and short of it is they don't have to run any advertisement they don't want to."
They can do it, but what does democratic public debate lose in the process? At a time when much of our access to political news and analysis comes from the media, network broadcasting bears a public trust and responsibility. The ìdeep pocketsî of MoveOn are not the pockets of one corporation lobbying for its commercial interests; they are the (not so deep) pockets of hundreds of thousands of individuals concerned for the future of this country. When CBS silences the collective voice of those individuals, while airing other political ads, it puts the public trust granted to it in question.