October 18, 2004
In the wake of the CEO of Viacom's declaration of support for George W. Bush, the media giant that owns both CBS and MTV Networks is refusing to air political advertising from advocacy organizations on its cable channels (MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central).
The independent progressive group Compare Decide Vote produced an ad comparing the presidential candidates' policy positions on issues important to young people, which the group says was accepted for placement by MTV Network's Comedy Central. Two days later, the station rejected the ad, citing an MTV Networks policy against running advocacy ads (Washington Post, 10/13/04).
"The reason behind our policy distinction between issue-ads and political campaign ads is simply that across all our properties, we talk about these issues every day," explained a Viacom spokesperson (Media Daily News, 10/13/04).
That reasoning—that outside perspectives on important political issues are blocked because Viacom's own coverage of the issues is sufficient—is undermined by CBS's recent decision to hold until after the election a 60 Minutes story on forged documents that the Bush administration used to sell the Iraq war. The network said it "would be inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election." (See FAIR Action Alert, 9/28/04.)
While Viacom stifles the messages of both political organizations and its own reporters, Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom, has made his own political voice heard clearly (Time, 10/4/04): "It happens that I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one."
Citing FAIR's criticism of the spiking of the 60 Minutes story in the wake of Redstone's declaration of support for Bush, L.A. Times media critic David Shaw (10/10/04) wrote that a politically motivated delay would be "reprehensible, a worse abdication of the network's journalistic responsibility than even [CBS anchor Dan] Rather's careless rush to judgment" on the supposed National Guard memos. Even if the motive was a "limit-the-damage public relations maneuver" in the wake of the Rather imbroglio, Shaw wrote, the delay would be "no less regrettable."
This isn't the first time Viacom has come under scrutiny for rejecting political ads. In March 2003, an anti-war group's ad was rejected from MTV (New York Times, 3/13/03), and Viacom blocked an anti-Bush ad from the group MoveOn.org from airing during the 2004 Super Bowl (Reuters, 1/16/04).
The media conglomerate's position that its own take on the election issues is sufficient is arrogant and presumptuous, particularly given that Viacom has a near-monopoly on media outlets that appeal primarily to young voters, like MTV and Comedy Central. This censorious policy is one that should be reversed.
ACTION: Compare Decide Vote has provided an 800 number that will connect you to Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone's office, where you can leave a message about the company's ban on independent political advertising—as well as CBS's decision to hold an exposé of the Bush administration until after it can no longer affect the election.
Sumner Redstone, Chairman, Viacom
As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if you maintain a polite tone.
For background information from Compare Decide Vote, see: www.comparedecidevote.com/viacom/issue.htm