More media (im)morality

Following right on the heels of WUNC bowing to the fear of government punishment of acknowledging reproductive rights (which followed the Sinclair and Private Ryan flaps), CBS and NBC are refusing to air an ad by the United Church of Christ because it fails to condemn homosexuality.

Again, they use the same argument as WUNC: it's too "controversial." Again, they are shut down not for advocating but simply stating their own mission in commonly-understood terms. Our local UCC has taken the lead in condemning this cowardly abdication of media responsibility. Here is their press release:

Turned Away

A television ad campaign centered around, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we," was refused by CBS and NBC as too controversial. The ad sponsored by the United Church of Christ features two bouncers in front of a church determining who gets in and who does not. It then cuts to the phrasing, "Jesus didn't turn people. Neither do we." (The ad can be viewed online at

According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples -- among other minority constituencies -- and is, therefore, too "controversial."

CBS and NBC have chosen to turn away the United Church of Christ from airing this commercial as part of its nation-wide identity campaign. This ad was shown in the Triangle last March and April as the Triangle-area was a test market prior to the beginning of a nation-wide identity campaign.

Ironically the rejected ad was designed to invite people who do not attend church regularly or who have felt alienated from a faith community. While the acceptance of gay and lesbian couples is the reason given by the CBS and NBC television networks, the commercial is not about gender or sexual orientation but hospitality and inclusion.

The ad concludes with a gathering of many different kinds of people: men and women, young and old, all races and abilities. In the crowd you see an elderly couple, a young couple and two women standing together. A narrator then proclaims the United Church of Christ's commitment to Jesus' extravagant welcome: "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."

While the ad makes no mention of the denomination's inclusion of gays and lesbians into the life and ministry of the church, nationally the United Church of Christ adopted a policy of inclusion of Christian who are gay or lesbian in 1985. Local congregations make their own determination for membership. In the Triangle area, there are five congregations that have formally adopted an Open and Affirming Covenant: United Church of Chapel Hill, Hillsborough UCC, Pilgrim UCC in Durham, Community UCC in Raleigh and North Raleigh UCC.

The United Church of Christ began a nation-wide identity campaign on December 1, “God is Still Speaking.” In recent years several denominations have hosted identity campaigns (United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). One part of the campaign is the ad to be shown in December, followed by a second ad to be shown in February. (The ad can be viewed online at

For more information, please contact:
Richard and Jill Edens, Pastors
United Church of Chapel Hill
1321 Airport Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Please watch the ad so you can see that it does not even mention homosexuality. There is a two-second shot of a woman amicably sqeezing another woman's shoulder. There is a voiceover about not excluding people. I am so totally stunned that these networks worked so hard to find something about this message of tolerance to object to.

Many of us already feel that the media provides a twisted and biased view to Americans. This new trend is clearly pointing to total government control of the media - but with none of the accountability you might expect from elected officals. Welcome to 1984! What we can do locally to fight this specific decision and the general collapse of the independent media?



I don't see this as a continuation of the WUNC issue. WUNC was responding to the possibility of FCC challenge. CBS is making a judgment call based on their own faulty reasoning. NBC, as I understand it, has a long history of not running religious advertising.

And in an amazing irony, Fox News has announced that it will run the ad.

I remember seeing this ad and being turned off by it immediately. I can tell you I didn't feel welcome. Personally, I think NBC and CBS are doing the UCC a favor by not running it.

Why does the UCC feel the need to portray other denominations as skinheads turning away homosexuals, blacks and hispanics? This is simply an exaggeration. Binkley Baptist in Chapel Hill is one example of a church that accepts homosexuals. The UCC would have done better by sticking with the second part of their ad, which IS warm and inviting.

It's not NBC as I said earlier that does not accept religious advertising--it's ABC. "ABC, said spokeswoman Julie Hoover, accepts no religious advertising on its broadcast network. However, the Disney-owned company's ABC Family cable channel will air the spot. The networks all contend that controversial topics should be handled by their news departments and not be hijacked by special-interest advertisers."

"Another ad, which depicts a young girl opening her steepled hands in a welcoming gesture, was accepted by both CBS and NBC. The United Church of Christ's Powell said it may run on those networks and others around Christmas and again next year during Lent."

Ruby asks what can be done....the difference between this and the WUNC decision is that CBS and NBC are standing upon their own editorial policy. Generating a huge public outcry that might affect revenues might be effective. It worked on Sinclair.

"I'm thinking of the LGBT folks in my church who felt so under attack after the election. They are getting hit again," explained the pastor. "This is another way where the culture, the media, makes them invisible. It is incredible that it is controversial for one woman to put her arm around another."

It is also bizarrely hypocritical. After all, the same NBC network that found the UCC ad "too controversial" airs programs such as "Will & Grace" that feature gay and lesbian characters. "We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies and titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome to committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," explained the Rev. Bob Chase, director of the national UCC's communication ministry.

Donna, I think you know that Binkley is an exceptionally open-minded church. They are certainly not what typical of the attitude that the UCC ad refers to.

If any of these TV networks tooks ads from presidential candiates (and I'm pretty sure they did), then I just can't understand how an ad for Christian tolerance could be too controversial or too adversarial for them.

Here's more about the responses from NBC and CBS from


Yes, you are right. CBS's reasons for not airing the ad are lame, and NBC is being quite hypocritical. And you make a good point about the presidential ads. I recall recent ads for the United Methodist Church, but I don't know what networks they aired on.

I still believe the inclusive message would have come across just as well without the skinheads. Hispanics and blacks are certainly not barred from going to church, at least in this country.

I was brought up fundamentalist Baptist (fire and brimstone), but I rejected the notion of an angry God long ago. It is true that gays are not welcome in a lot of churches. But until recently, female pastors were unheard of. I believe that people can come around, eventually, to the notion of homosexual congregationists. It will take time. However, politicizing religion only serves to alienate people more. I was certainly alienated by Bush's stance on a marriage amendment (un-Christian as well as un-American).

I have despised network t.v. for about 8 years now and refuse to watch it. It has nothing intelligent to offer (unless you prefer reality shows) I find that sending an email to CBS, NBC or whoever, to that effect, makes me feel much better as well.

We all have a choice. Choosing to NOT watch (and letting them know you are boycotting) is the best weapon.

Viva Cable TV!

Terri, I think your reaction is exactly right: This isn't a case of networks fearing the ads are too controversial for the FCC. They're worried about alienating their audience. Networks have pulled ads in the past because of audience complaints and refused to run ads (like for Trojan condoms). But this is a decision based on corporate policy and their understanding of their own audience--not on any fear of violating their license. Yeah, it sucks, but yeah, it's totally within their rights (just like a store owner doesn't have to let you put your event flyer in their window). I agree with Trish--if you don't like it, one good choice is not to watch it. Or call up all the other advertisers and tell them you won't buy anything from *them* if they advertise on NBC. That kind of pressure got to Sinclair in regards to their John Kerry war movie decision.

My understanding is that networks are required to accept political campaign ads at reduced rates. Anyone know for sure?

what is missing from this discussion is part of CBS's stated reason for not running the ad:

...and the fact that the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] Networks.

this aspect does connect it back to the WUNC/IPAS situation. it is media deferring to the current political climate in making their decisions, not standing on principle.

the reference by CBS to the Homosexual Discrimination Amendment is extremely bizarre. you'll note the ad does not mention gay marriage at all, just welcoming all people. CBS is basically saying that bush's support for a constitutional amendment makes it open season on gays.

Donna--The fact is that other churches DO make minorities feel unwelcome. And some denominations BAN "practicing" homosexuals. I know Binkly doesn't--but there ARE churches out there that do. Look at today's paper!

Not that it matters--but the church in the ad doesn't look like any Baptist Church I've ever seen. More Episcopalian/RC...

The UCC has a history of being "progressive"--once we got past all the "witch-hunting" stuff. Heavily into the abolitionist movement, early ordination of women, UCC allows gay ministers, etc. Not to everyone's taste/beliefs, admittedly.

I didn't read the "gatekeepers" as skinheads--they reminded me more of bouncers at an exclusive night club.

While I wish the networks would choose to air the ads--at least they are being consistent in their (hypocritical) editorial policy.
In the interest of full disclosure--my husband and I joined United Church of Chapel Hill in 1985. He was raised Roman Catholic, I was raised Episcopalian--and we "Church shopped" for two years. TOTALLY unsuccessfully. Then we bought our house on West Main in Carrboro. Rick and Jill Edens (pastors at UCCH) were our next-door neighbors. They invited us to a service. We went--and realized we had found a home. The members welcomed us, helped us with an unfamiliar liturgy, and the rest is history. We'll be celebrating our 20th "anniversary" at UCCH in March.

ERS, the broadcasters' decision reflects concern over audience reprisal, not government reprisal. They're just using the pending legistlation as an excuse, saying it reflects their audience's view on the subject.

Look, corporations often don't take radical stances--or even reasonable stances--on issues. Is anyone actually surprised by this? I think it sucks, but it's not surprising at all.

That is also why there is FCC oversight and in some cases censorship that one might one see on say a premium cable channel or in a movie theater.

Should be:
That is also why there is FCC oversight and in some cases censorship of network TV that is more restrictive than one might one see on say a premium cable channel or in a movie theater.


I'm happy for you that you found your religion:) In my post, I did acknowledge that gays are banned in most churches. An article in today's Herald-Sun ( reports that a lesbian Methodist minister was defrocked for being openly gay. The vote, 7-6, seems to be an indication that this is an issue they are thinking about and struggling with.

Like I said previously, female pastors were once unheard of. While doing genealogy research near my rural Georgia hometown, I ran across a Methodist Church with a female pastor. Even in the conservative South, there are female Methodist and Baptist ministers. And, believe it or not, there are mixed race congregations, too. Things can change. It takes time, though. I do realize, however, that that's no comfort for gays today who need the change now.

My thoughts that the bouncers were skinheads is based on my initial reaction to the ad when I saw it on TV; that is, the image of the white man and his blonde children being happily admitted. I believe that the message would have been just as effective without these images. Of course, CBS probably still would not have run it since they based their decision on a benign hug between two women.

A quick one since it's end of semester and I have to give a talk in a few
Broadcast companies in FCC regulated markets do not have the same rights to
'just not run something' as other businesses. That's because they are
licensed to use the public limited spectrum for the public good (and they
make a lot of money by having a limited monopoly some might argue). That's
why there are different laws about media access, equal time (for political
announcements), and the like. That is also why there is FCC oversight and in
some cases censorship that one might one see on say a premium cable channel
or in a movie theater.
Please don't confuse these networks with your corner store. They get special
privs and they follow special rules as a consequence.

Paul, I used a flippant analogy in comparing the broadcasters to the corner store. I think my posts here and in the WUNC thread indicate that I clearly understand that broadcasters are not the same as the corner store.

However, with the exception of political issues/campaigns and public service issues, can't broadcasters reject just about any advertisement they want? And accept any advertisement as long as it doesn't violate other FCC standards, like decency issues?

In any case, I can't see that the FCC would compel them to run an ad. Does the FCC even monitor the content of broadcast advertising?

Donna--noted. Actually--I agree with you. I think the ad would have been more effective without the "bouncers." But then, I don't like negative campaign commercials, either.

Joan, that's a good question. Can a network refuse advertising just because it doesn't like who's buying it, or doesn't like the message, EVEN if it doesn't violate basic FCC standards--not a lie, no bad language, not hate speech, etc? Has CBS in fact deprived the United Church of Christ with a speech venue by refusing this ad? Many people defend the right of political organizations to raise money and place ads by saying that the money represents "speech" by the donors---doesn't buying this ad represent a similar attempt at "speech" by the church donors?

The networks profit from the public airwaves and as such should have some responsibilities to the public to air diverse opinions, even if they aren't popular, as long as they conform to some basic guidelines. I think that is what Paul is saying in his post.

CBS doesn't seem to have any problems challenging the Bush administration's position on a number of other issues. Why are they suddenly so timid about an innocuous ad that simply advertises an open, welcoming attitude at a church?

Ruby, I don't think it's government control of the media we need to be worried about, but stockholder control of the media.

Anita, I think you've hit the nail on the head--stockholder control of the media is pretty darn scary, too.

Also, obviously advertising on the public airwaves isn't open to anyone--it's open to those with oodles of cash, among other things. I don't think this is a free speech issue (at least one of the networks claims not to accept any ads for "advocacy" groups). In any case, the decisions are fuzzy--Viagra and Cialsis are okay to advertise, condoms are not. ??

This issue touches more on ethics than law. And we need to draw a clear line between advertising and news broadcasts--those are and should be very separate departments.


I'm sorry to hear that you think God is angry with you:(

I'm fairly new to blogging. What do the asterisks mean? Are they the same as quotes?

I can't belive you all are freaking about this commercial whith all the other commercials on the air.

I think what is being expressed by some here, including me I'll admit, is a nostalgia for the "Fairness Doctrine" that was gutted then removed on Reagan in the 80s. What is left is mostly the right of reply to personal attacks and response to political editorial (opposing opinions welcome as they say on the Commentators).
The concept of fairness obviously exists as well as the right to reply, but the legal and FCC related discussion through the 80s and beyond has dealt with how to impliment and enforce "fairness"
Our free market friends, such as those at Cato, argue that the FCC has no reason to exist since it was founded on bandwidth scarcity and as it turns out there is no scarcity at all (or so say some writers). Cable, satellite, internet, etc have opened the market place and the need to protect media as a market place of ideas is no long necessary.
But others noticed that the abolition, first in regards to radio, of "Fairness" was the fuel that spread the fire of talk radio -- in particular our friend Rush. Attempts to reinstate "Fairness" under Clinton failed (and were called by some the "Hush Rush" bill -- I wish I could find a good reference to this; it's only from memory). Obviously hushing Rush would not be fair. The goal should have been to open more venues for debate and discussion.
Under Powell, the FCC has been driving Libertarians and Liberals crazy by focusing on fuzzy moral issues in which cable and satellite and internet get breaks that tradional media are not given. Wm. Safire is among the Libertarian critics of the FCC having called for Powell to step down, as I recall, for the FCC to be abolished. Howard Stern, you'll not be surprised to hear, has expressed the same views.
So much for legal recourse. Hypocrisy, if not simple confusion, abounds. Viagra adverts are okay. Condom ads are not. Adverts from the Church of Latter Day Saints promoting the family through small dramas are fine as are ads about caring from the Lutherans. UCC dramatizing inclusion is not. More amazements have been expressed on this thread.
Ownership is another issue entirely as most of you have noticed. Lack of localism, noted on other discussions on OP. Concentration of media ownership puts broad decisions in the hands of a very few and fewer still. Stockholders are generally so abtracted from the companies they own through mutual funds and pension funds do not excert pressure one way or the other except to respond the rises and dips in stock prices.
Tough questions. Makes me want to take a J-school course or two ;->

* note to Donna: * are used for emphasis in plain text writing. If you used html you could instead use strong or italic. See point 6 in the Guidelines.

Quick reference to Hush Rush by FAIR one interesting line:
"The Fairness Doctrine isn't going to take Rush Limbaugh off the air," remarked Larry King (The Rush Limbaugh Story, Paul Colford). "Be fair: What's wrong with that? If I were Rush, I would want a liberal host following my show."

outa here on a beautiful day


YES, God is very angry at me---I have broken
*all* His commandments.

Not Perfect, just forgiven.

Best, Jack

PS Shelter needs 10 more coats!

Who'd you kill? It would do you good to confess it here.


I funded an abortion in my youth.

I will meet my son/daughter at the judgement.

Be comforted about judgement day. Nothing bad can happen in heaven.

The ad was good because it got people talking about the issue of tolerance. However, no one can force a network to run an ad. Ironically, the ad got more attention by being rejected by the networks. Go figure.

I think people would be surprised that there are churches all over the country that actually do practice what they preach. You have to kiss a lot of toads before you find them, though.


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