December 01, 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." (The ad can be viewed online at

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.

Contact Information:
United Church of Christ
Barb Powell, press contact
(216) 736-2175

[original article]

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