Citizen Groups Allege Censorship; Networks Cite Established Policies

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WASHINGTON ( -- The political battle over the Bush administration's planned war in Iraq is filtering
Make-believe president Martin Sheen speaks out against the real president on one of the rejected anti-war ads.
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Group Charges Media Consolidation Facilitated Censorship

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down to impact the U.S. media and advertising industry.

Ads rejected
A growing number of groups opposed to the war allege cable networks are censoring citizens' political views by refusing to accept placements of their anti-war TV ads.

Some peace groups are thwarting the networks' rejection by buying local time in major cities for the same anti-war ads.

One set of spots seen last week in Washington feature Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and were produced for by Too Much Media.

'Larry King Live'
Mr. Cohen, who has been active in efforts by True Majority and the Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, expressed dismay last week that CNN would not allow True Majority to buy time on Larry King Live. He said one spot that was rejected by CNN features actress Susan Sarandon asking former U.S. Iraq ambassador Ed Peck, "Before our kids start coming home from Iraq in body bags and women and children start dying in Baghdad, I need to know what did Iraq do to us?"

CNN response
A CNN official said the network had a policy not to accept issue ads on regions in conflict.

Mr. Cohen said, "It is amazing that the networks are rejecting them in terms of freedom of speech and censorship. The news media pretty much acts as the megaphone of the administration. ... We are left with little choice but to buy time to get our message across. If, as a practical matter, you are not able to communicate a message, there is no free speech."

Another controversial ad -- a spot featuring the actor Martin Sheen, who plays the president of the U.S. on the TV series West Wing, -- is slated to run Feb. 26 on cable channels in New York, Los Angeles in Washington, D.C., as part of a $200,000 buy. In the spot, from Zimmerman & Markman, Santa Monica, Calif., Mr. Sheen urges people to call, e-mail and fax U.S. senators and the White House on Feb. 26 stating their opposition to the war.

Buying local time, the group behind the Martin Sheen spot, is a member of a loose coalition of diverse groups that includes Greenpeace, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women and the National Council of Churches, among others, under the name Win Without War. The coalition cannot afford to buy time on broadcast TV, and has said its ads have been rejected by cable netowrks for national buys. So the groups are buying local time in major cities to air their celebrity-laden spots opposing war with Iraq.

Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, said that while he personally feels that Saddam Hussein isn't trustworthy, a war isn't the right answer because "it will serve as a powerful tool" to create "a new generation of terrorists."

'Turn up the heat'
"We have to turn up the heat more to get a more reasonable response," he said.

His coalition said it purchased cable locally after attempts to purchase directly through cable networks were rejected.

"It is frankly outrageous that anyone who has been given a license by our federal government to deny the citizens of our country the opportunity to hear the other side of this story," Mr. Andrews said. "The president of the United States has a pulpit second to none. But we believe it is only fair and right for the people of this country to hear the other side of this story. We expect the media to provide with that fair opportunity."

Mr. Cohen said another spot featuring hip-hop producer Russell Simmons that was produced by Global Vision, New York, and ending with the tagline "Tough inspections, not war" was pulled off New York cable following complaints from viewers that its pictures of combat casualties were too graphic.

'Judging Amy' stars
Also in the True Majority campaign was a spot featuring hip-hop artist Mos Def and another with Judging Amy stars Tyne Daly and Amy Brenneman. The latter ran locally in Los Angeles last week; several agencies contributed to its production.

While there are no immediate plans for additional TV spots, Mr. Cohen said last week that there are plans for print and perhaps radio ads asking war opponents to wear blue ribbons, symbolizing the color of the United Nations.

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