PM AND MEDIA RIGHTS

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When it comes to actions deemed hostile to its tobacco business, Philip Morris USA takes no guff from anyone. So there should be no surprise at the roundhouse right the marketer has directed at Knight-Ridder management, which promulgated guidelines its newspaper publishers can use in deciding what cigarette advertising is acceptable-and unacceptable-in their pages.

We read, and reread, the warning a PM executive leveled at Knight-Ridder. We repeat it here: "We will not under any circumstances allow publishers to dictate the contents of our ads. Based on a case-by-case study, we and our other operating companies will make a judgement [on whether to buy ads in] individual newspapers and magazines."

We're certain PM sees this as a ringing declaration of advertiser rights. Take our ads as we provide them or Philip Morris will take its ad dollars-and maybe the ad dollars for Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing, too-and go elsewhere.

But is PM overlooking the fact that media have rights-and responsibilities-too? One of them is that media owners have the power to control what appears on their ad pages or during their commercial minutes. Broadcast TV networks have been notorious for "dictating" to advertisers what products could be advertised when, and even what claims could and could not be made; some publishers have long had rules that bar whole categories of ads from their pages.

Knight-Ridder's guidelines urge its newspaper publishers, among other steps, to reject "cartoonlike" ads (Joe Camel) and copy such as "Alive with pleasure" (Newport), and they won't make cigarette advertisers happy. But that's not the point. In an industry that loudly, and correctly, praises self-regulation over government-imposed ad bans and other form of censorship, this is self-regulation in action.

Advertising media are not obligated to carry every ad, copy line or creative platform that comes along-and shouldn't. A Knight-Ridder can "dictate" to advertisers, and advertisers will choose either to play by its rules or move ad dollars elsewhere. It's part of what makes for a healthy media system and something that advertisers-even Philip Morris-should respect.

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