Obama: What It Means to You

What Does the Democratic Candidate Have in Store for the Marketing and Media Industries?

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A first-term senator, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama doesn't have much of a record -- especially when it comes to marketing-related issues. And his economic plan doesn't offer much in way of specifics as it relates to the ad industry. And the Obama Camp, like the McCain Camp, declined to answer an Ad Age questionnaire.

Barack Obama
Photo: Mannie Garcia

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Among Mr. Obama's supporters is Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has pushed to give the Food and Drug Administration power to ban direct-to-consumer drug ads for newer drugs and to limit tobacco ads to black-and-white text. Mr. Obama's health plan hints at new limits on advertising tobacco and alcohol.

Mr. Obama, though, has been plenty outspoken on media and internet issues. In speeches, statements and letters to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, Mr. Obama has suggested TV is responsible for "coarsening our culture"; ripped Mr. Martin's plans for FCC rules changes that could allow more media-ownership consolidation; and urged the government to adopt net-neutrality protections for the internet.

Taxes

Mr. Obama has offered a detailed economic plan but has made no mention of advertising's deductibility. Instead, his plan combines cuts on seniors and the middle class with some stimulus efforts. High earners in advertising, marketing and media fields may find themselves well outside Mr. Obama's definition of middle-class when tax time rolls around.

His plan does call for using government incentives such as tax breaks to see that broadband internet connections are available everywhere.


Media ownership

Mr. Obama wasn't in Congress when the Senate voted in 2003 to overturn the FCC's last media-ownership ruling, but he has spoken out against subsequent attempts to ease media-ownership rules.

In the letters to Mr. Kerry and Mr. Martin, Mr. Obama said the FCC was rushing to ease rules without an adequate understanding of the impact consolidation could have in lessening ownership of broadcast stations by minorities. He also has been concerned about its impact on local programming.

"Barack Obama believes that the nation's rules ensuring diversity of media ownership are critical to the public interest," the campaign's website says. "Unfortunately ... the [FCC] has promoted the concept of consolidation over diversity. Barack Obama believes that providing opportunities for minority-owned businesses to own radio and television stations is fundamental to creating the diverse media environment that federal law requires and the country deserves and demands."

The website says the candidate will also "promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints and clarify the public-interest obligations of broadcasters. An Obama presidency will promote greater coverage of local issues and better responsiveness by broadcasters to the communities they serve." It's unclear how he intends to accomplish these goals.

Mr. Obama has also promised reinvigorated antitrust scrutiny of mergers if elected.


TV content

Mr. Obama has expressed concern about whether TV is getting too vulgar but also has said the answer should be in providing better tools for parents to limit their children's viewing rather than having the FCC take action against indecency violations.

"Mass media is contributing to an overall coarsening of our culture," he said in a November 2005 speech to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In that same speech, though, he said the number of media choices consumers have and First Amendment questions leave doubts that regulating indecency is the answer. "We know that with the pervasiveness of mass media today -- the existence of so many means of communication -- it's very difficult to regulate our way out of this problem. And for those of us who value our First Amendment freedoms -- who value artistic expression -- we wouldn't want to."

Instead, he suggested that government focus on getting more out of broadcasters' public-interest obligations.

"The content of [children's] viewing is not enriching their minds but numbing them, not broadening intellectual curiosity or appreciation for the arts but trivializing the important and desensitizing us to the tragic.

"We need to make it clear [to broadcasters] that there are larger civic obligations to the public ... obligations to reflect not the basest elements of American culture but the profound and proud."

Mr. Obama has subsequently taken similar stances, and on his campaign's website suggested that providing a better ratings system and more tools are better answers.

"Obama will work to give parents the tools to prevent reception of programming that they find offensive on television and on digital media ... [to] encourage improvements to the existing voluntary rating system, exploiting new technologies like tagging and filtering, so that parents can better understand what content their children will see and have the tools to respond."

The same position made it into the Democratic Party platform due to be approved this week by delegates.


Internet

Mr. Obama calls for the FCC to ban internet providers from giving one content provider a favored path to consumers -- also known as net neutrality.

"A key reason the internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history. It needs to stay that way," says the campaign's website.

It says that if carriers impose a "toll charge" and give some providers favored access and others lesser, "such a result would threaten innovation, the open tradition and architecture of the internet, and ... it would also threaten the equality of speech through which the internet has begun to transform American political and cultural discourse."

Mr. Obama also wants the government to take a far more active role in boosting the web's speed and availability, suggesting the country is falling behind others.

"America should lead the world in broadband penetration and internet access," says the campaign's website in supporting the use of tax and loan incentives to speed access.

Mr. Obama has also promised stepped-up scrutiny of piracy and intellectual-content issues.


Other advertising issues

The Bush administration has helped kill the prospect of some restrictions, such as those on direct-to-consumer advertising, by threatening vetoes. Mr. Obama is expected to be more receptive. Among Mr. Obama's key supporters is Mr. Kennedy, who has pushed to give the FDA the power to ban DTC ads for newer drugs.

"Americans benefit from healthy environments that allow them to pursue healthy choices and behaviors that can help ward off chronic and preventable diseases," the website says. "Healthy environments include sidewalks, biking paths and walking trails; local grocery stores with fruits and vegetables, restricted advertising for tobacco and alcohol to children; and wellness and educational campaigns."

Mr. Obama has also called for some limits on marketing credit cards, including a "consumer bill of rights."
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