Satellite television provider Direct TV’s recent decision to reject an advertisement produced by the advocacy group U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation raises serious questions about the responsibilities of corporate media to permit, if not promote, the free exchange of ideas on important questions of national policy.
The advertisement, which asks viewers to contact President Obama and tell him to end U.S. military aid to Israel, includes footage from the latest Israeli attack on Gaza and refers to the U.S.-made weapons used in the attack. Direct TV reportedly told the U.S. Campaign that their ad was too controversial for the network. They further claimed to avoid airing ads by advocacy groups involved in other controversial issues such as gun control and abortion, but were unable to cite specific examples. It is not surprising that an ad touching on U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was perceived by the network as “controversial”. Yet, the fact that people have different and strongly held views on a topic makes it more, not less, important that those differences be aired and debated as fully as possible.
While there is no First Amendment obligation for a private company like Direct TV to run the U.S. Campaign’s ad – or any other ad on a controversial topic – there may at times be compelling reasons to do so. Large private media corporations control most of the airwaves, and despite the advent of unprecedented alternative media sources, retain an enormous influence over public discourse. The decision to reject certain advertisements about controversial issues of public concern threatens to constrict the national conversation that is essential to democracy.
In related news, gay rights advocacy group gettoknowusfirst.org ran into similar problems when Los Angeles NBC affiliate KNBC refused to run their ad during the Superbowl. Other groups, ranging from animal rights activists to pro life advocates have also had Superbowl related difficulties.