April 19, 1997 in City

Corporate Censors Are No Less Censors

By The Spokesman-Review
 

If the sponsors who underwrite commercial television programming had to worry about defending murder, mayhem and marital infidelity, their investments would change in a hurry.

Violence and sex course from the home screen like a river at flood stage, but advertisers seldom flinch - if the audiences are there.

Unless …

Unless pressure groups that would like to silence certain messages coerce the ad buyers into slamming the gates of which they have become the de facto keepers.

When ABC announced that the title character in comedian Ellen DeGeneres’ show, “Ellen,” will proclaim her lesbianism on April 30, Chrysler and two other frequent advertisers - General Motors and Johnson & Johnson - withdrew.

It wasn’t a lack of audience but a lack of fortitude.

Those decisions won’t prevent the show from airing or a huge expected audience from tuning in. Furthermore, the businesses have every right to decide where and how to spend their advertising dollars.

But the incident is a significant public concern, nevertheless.

As George Gerbner, a renowned authority on television’s social impact, noted recently in Spokane, TV has become our culture’s primary storyteller, the source from which we draw our picture of life.

Which stories reach which ears is a decision for individual consumers and parents, who can flip the switch or pull the plug, not for large corporations or the interest groups that intimidate them.

If the Fox Television Network can charge $40,000 a second for air time during the Super Bowl, commercial interests clearly are profiting, and handsomely, from their access to the public airwaves. In return they owe the public at least a neutrality policy with respect to enforcing or condemning values.

They should not have, in effect, the censorship powers that Americans have properly withheld from government.

Chrysler’s decision to pull its sponsorship of Ellen DeGeneres’ coming-out episode is not in itself a statement of intolerance, but it is a statement that condones intolerance.

Two months ago, Ford Motor Co. sponsored “Schindler’s List” in prime time. The powerful Holocaust film ran virtually unedited - despite nudity, profanity and violence - and without commercial interruption. Sixty-five million Americans watched.

Ford took a risk. Chrysler has taken a hike.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Doug Floyd/For the editorial board


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