CBS, like any organization that depends on profit to survive, must look out for the bottom line. But when that line involves outright censoring of an issue-based ad, free speech problems can rear their ugly heads.As a major media outlet, CBS is a custodian of the freedom of speech in this country. Though its role as such is not a codified legal obligation, the sheer power and influence the network has on the minds of millions of viewers in the U.S. and elsewhere must also come with a certain amount of responsibility to the institution upon which American democracy thrives and grows: Free speech.
Therefore, the network’s recent decision to bar a Super Bowl ad from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals involving a light-hearted gag equating pepperoni pizza with impotence comes off as unfair.
CBS policy states they do not permit advocacy ads from those with “undue influence on controversial issues of public importance.” Presumably, this is to protect the network from any ideological differences and subsequent revenue loss from those advertisers and viewers who disagree with such a position, but if the effect is to stifle the fairly innocuous message of PETA, it is flawed.
This is not so with liberal Web site MoveOn.org’s anti-Bush ad, the winner of their “Bush in 30 Seconds” contest. The network is well within its rights to refuse it airtime, since it clearly and unequivocally fits into their decade-old policy on these sorts of advertisements. The issue addressed here is clearly a “controversial issue of public importance,” and could affect the loyalty of viewers and advertisers, especially during the Super Bowl, as the nation looks on.
Whether or not one agrees with MoveOn.org’s political message is not the issue. Quite simply, CBS’s decision on the MoveOn ad is reasonable.