Thursday, July 15, 2004

Non-profit sues Media Giant over alleged censorship

Reuters is carrying a story on how a Berkeley, CA-based anti-war non-profit group is suing media giant Clear Channel communications for refusing to carry its simple ad promoting democracy over war in Times Square, NYC, during the Republican convention in that city. (You can see the "controversial" ad here.) (For those not in the know, Berkeley, CA, is a good day's drive or jet plane flight from Southern California where I am, and a different world politically.)

While much more anti-war than this blog, I don't think it is a completely unreasonable message: some of the current crises probably could be diffused through diplomacy were it not for the intervention of parties (on both sides) whose interests are aligned with militarism and military spending. (According to respected thinktanks and even official U.S. government statistics, Al Queda has done quite well during the "war on terror," for example. And the bin Ladens are building a controversial skyscrapper, although I'm told this has nothing to do with their connection (or lack thereof) to terrorism.)

For all the hoopla over how media giant Clear Channel (a radio broadcaster) is supposedly beholden to the Bush-controlled FCC (see my earlier post covering accusations of media bias, it seems like the problem in this case is Mariott Hotels.

Marriott says the ad is "distasteful to the community." While NYC, the major victim of the 911 attacks, had very strong anti-terrorist feelings, Times Square was also the site of the some of the largest anti-war demonstrations in the world, so the message is one that is hardly unknown to the community. (NYC had its share of American flags following 911, but New Yorkers had enough good taste not to show as many as in some Midwestern cities, where neighbors seemed to compete with one another as to who could put out the largest patriotic displays.) However, it seems that America is bitterly divided right now, and I can easily imagine some Republicans taking their business elsewhere if the Marriott displays the ad. Moreover, given recent events, it seems there are even some Republican "grass-roots" groups (funded by Republican PR firms) that may even try to organize a boycott.

Given all that, it's not unreasonable for the Marriott to want to refuse the ad to protect its business. (Nor is it unreasonable, given recent events and recent press accounts, for the Berkeley based group to try to sue, crying censorship, because it seems like it can't get its message out.)

Although it made the national news today, it's probably a tempest in a teapot, as it sounds like Clear Channel will try to arrange other space in Times Square for the group.