Copyright 2004 Chattanooga Publishing Company  
Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

December 2, 2004 Thursday


 Two TV networks reject ad from liberal denomination


Bill Carter and Neela Banerjee

New York Times News Service

The United Church of Christ, one of the nation's most liberal Christian denominations, accused CBS and NBC Wednesday of rejecting a commercial it had produced because the networks feared hostile reactions from conservative political and religious groups.

The commercial, about religious tolerance, included an implication that other denominations did not welcome gays.

The networks said they turned down the commercial for the same reason they have rejected numerous issue-oriented commercials in the past -- they do not allow advocacy advertising.

Network executives also said the church might have been more interested in gaining publicity.

Both networks said they had accepted a different commercial from the church on the same subject.

Still, some consumer and media watchdog groups excoriated CBS and NBC on Wednesday for hypocrisy and giving in to the political agenda of the White House.

"What they are doing here is rank hypocrisy," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, the president of the Media Access Group, a liberal media watchdog agency.

The commercial began running Wednesday on a number of channels, all but one on cable television. The Fox broadcast network accepted the ad. ABC was not included in the protests because church executives said they accepted that network's position that it never accepts any religious advertising.

In the commercial, a pair of actors play what looks like nightclub bouncers in front of a church. They admit only a few people, all white. They turn away a young black woman, a Hispanic-looking man and two men who may be interpreted by some as gay.

The commercial offers the message, "Jesus didn't turn away people, and neither do we." It concludes with a panorama of people, including two young women, one of whom has her arm around the other. It never mentions the word gay.

"This is a quite wholesome message that is being censored out," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC general minister and president.

Thomas said the advertisement had aired in parts of the country, like Oklahoma City, central Pennsylvania and Florida, without generating a negative response.

But the ad was shown at a spring meeting of Christian and Jewish representatives organized by Faith & Values, a television production company, and some evangelical Christian leaders there were offended because the ad implied their churches exclude people, said Edward J. Murray, the company's chief executive.