United Church of Christ, November 30, 2004

CBS, NBC refuse to air church's television advertisement

United Church of Christ ad highlighting Jesus' extravagant welcome called 'too controversial'

CLEVELAND -- The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a
30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its
all-inclusive welcome has been deemed "too controversial."

The ad, part of the denomination's new, broad identity campaign set to
begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that -- like Jesus -- the United
Church of Christ (UCC) seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability,
age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.

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."

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other
minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an
explanation from CBS, "and the fact 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."

Similarly, a rejection by NBC declared the spot "too controversial."

"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on
fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks, an ad
with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial,"
says the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president.
"What's going on here?"

Negotiations between network officials and the church's representatives
broke down today (Nov. 30), the day before the ad campaign begins airing
nationwide on a combination of broadcast and cable networks. The ad has
been accepted and will air on a number of networks, including ABC Family,
AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel
and TV Land, among others.

The debut 30-second commercial features two muscle-bound "bouncers"
standing guard outside a symbolic, picturesque church and selecting which
persons are permitted to attend Sunday services. Written text interrupts
the scene, announcing, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." 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."

In focus groups and test market research conducted before the campaign's
national rollout, the UCC found that many people throughout the country
feel alienated by churches. The television ad is geared toward those
persons who, for whatever reason, have not felt welcomed or comfortable in
a church.

"We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no
problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating
dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay
couples, that's where they draw the line," says the Rev. Robert Chase,
director of the UCC's communication ministry.

CBS and NBC's refusal to air the ad "recalls the censorship of the 1950s
and 1960s, when television station WLBT in Jackson, Miss., refused to show
people of color on TV," says Ron Buford, coordinator for the United Church
of Christ identity campaign. Buford, of African-American heritage, says,
"In the 1960s, the issue was the mixing of the races. Today, the issue
appears to be sexual orientation. In both cases, it's about exclusion."

In 1959, the Rev. Everett C. Parker organized United Church of Christ
members to monitor the racist practices of WLBT. Like many southern
television stations at the time, WLBT had imposed a news blackout on the
growing civil rights movement, pulling the plug on then-attorney Thurgood
Marshall. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. implored the UCC to get involved
in the media civil rights issues. Parker, founding director of the Office
of Communication of the United Church of Christ, organized churches and won
in federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public, not private
property. That decision ultimately led to an increase in the number of
persons of color in television studios and newsrooms. The suit clearly
established that television and radio stations, as keepers of the public
airwaves, must broadcast in the public interest.

"The consolidation of TV network ownership into the hands of a few
executives today puts freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression
in jeopardy," says former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, currently
managing director of the UCC's Office of Communication. "By refusing to air
the United Church of Christ's paid commercial, CBS and NBC are stifling
religious expression. They are denying the communities they serve a
suitable access to differing ideas and expressions."

Adds Andrew Schwartzman, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Media
Access Project in Washington, D.C., "This is an abuse of the broadcasters'
duty to inform their viewers on issues of importance to the community.
After all, these stations don't mind carrying shocking, attention-getting
programming, because they do that every night."

The United Church of Christ's national offices -- located in Cleveland --
speak to, but not for, its nearly 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million
members. In the spirit of the denomination's rich tradition, UCC
congregations remain autonomous, but also strongly in covenant with each
other and with the denomination's regional and national bodies.

This message is from the Religious Leadership Roundtable Listserv. The listserv is hosted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. All information contained in this posting is confidential and may not be crossposted to other lists or shared without the consent of the original author.



http://www.frederickclarkson.com/2004/12/no-room-at-cbs-and-nbc.html

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

No Room at CBS and NBC

Who would have thought that two major TV networks would refuse an ad featuring a mainstream Christian message of welcome and inclusion during the Christmas season? Not me. But that's what has happened.

The United Church of Christ -- that's the mainline Protestant denomination whose white wooden churches are featured on New England calendars and are as American as apple pie and Thanksgiving -- want to pay to broadcast ads welcoming the alienated and the outcast to their churches during the Christmas season. But CBS and NBC think it is "too controversial" that gay people are welcome at the United Church of Christ.

Here is what the United Church of Christ (UCC) stated on November 30th in a press release: "The ad, part of the denomination's new, broad identity campaign set to begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that -- like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ... seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation."

The UCC statement continued: "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'" Since there are openly gay characters on network programming, and the issues of same sex marriage are discussed in the news all the time, this statement makes no sense. I have seen ads and public service announcements for many religious groups on local and network television over many years. But I have never heard of one that was refused.

But it turns out that what is really going on, is that CBS is afraid of the White House. "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact 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."

The networks can try to blame the White House if they like, but their religious bigotry is their own responsibility.

Here is more of what the UCC has to say: "CBS and NBC's refusal to air the ad 'recalls the censorship of the 1950s and 1960s, when television station WLBT in Jackson, Miss., refused to show people of color on TV,' says Ron Buford, coordinator for the United Church of Christ identity campaign. Buford, of African-American heritage, says, 'In the 1960s, the issue was the mixing of the races. Today, the issue appears to be sexual orientation. In both cases, it's about exclusion'"

"Jesus didn't turn people away," states the ad, "Neither do we." "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey," the ad continues, "you are welcome here."

People can see the censored ad for themselves online. But they might also catch it on ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land, among others that have agreed to run the ad.

All this may seem to some like a weird footnote in the culture wars. However, I think that the networks have miscalculated. They have refused the ad of a Christian church at Christmas because that church welcomes everyone. There are 1.3 million members of the UCC and tens of millions more who are members of Christian denominations, and other religious religious traditions that will recognize that if CBS can turn down an ad because they are afraid the White House won't like it, the First Amendment protection of religious freedom is in jeopardy. The disgraceful affront to gay and lesbian people will also not go unnoticed.

I predict that this Christmas season will not be very merry for CBS, NBC and their advertisers.

But whatever the fate of these cowardly corporations, here in Massachusetts, over 200 UCC churches are preparing for "an extravagant welcome" to those who they believe will be reached by the ads' message that "God is still speaking." The ads will air through Christmas, and will be followed up with a different ad in the run up to Easter. I think many people will admire the UCC's Christmas season of welcome. And I have no doubt that many people will check out their local UCC church, and that they will be glad they did. For many millions of Americans, there is nothing so special as the warmth and generosity of the Christmas tradition.

But the Christmas story of how there was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph, and so Jesus the son of God, was born in a stable -- will be retold many times in the next few weeks. I am sure I will not be the only one to note that there was no room at CBS and NBC for a Christian message of welcome and inclusion for all during the Christmas season. But I am also sure that none of this will dampen the Christmas spirit that is bursting forth at the United Church of Christ.

posted by Frederick Clarkson at 7:57 AM

To contact CBS call: (212) 975-4321
To contact NBC call: (212) 664-4444

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