Anti-war groups battle to air spots

Feb 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Groups opposing a war with Iraq, frustrated in attempts to run advertising on the major networks, have found a way around the broadcasters by turning to local outlets.
Skirting networks that have rejected their ads for a national run, coalitions of groups as diverse as Greenpeace, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women, True Majority and the National Council of Churches are buying local cable time for celebrity-laden commercials that question war.
Last week, Moveon.org announced a $200,000 buy on AOL Time Warner’s CNN to run locally in New York, Los Angeles and Washington. The single spot, from the Zimmerman & Markman advertising agency in Santa Monica, Calif., features Martin Sheen, who plays the president on NBC’s “The West Wing.” In the commercial, Mr. Sheen urges people to join a “virtual march” on Washington Feb. 26 to oppose a war with Iraq.
Sheen was joined by Janeane Garofalo, Mike Farrell at a press conference in L.A. to announce the campaign by a coalition of more than 30 organizations called Artists United to Win Without War. The organizers hope citizens will flood the nation’s capital with e-mails, faxes and phone calls to the White House, U.S. senators and other elected officials.
Another set of spots seen last week in Washington, produced for TrueMajority.org by Too Much Media, features Ben and Jerry’s co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.
Mr. Cohen, who has been active both in the True Majority campaign and in efforts by Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, expressed dismay last week that CNN would not allow True Majority to buy time on “Larry King Live.” One spot he said was rejected by CNN features Susan Sarandon asking former U.S. Iraq Ambassador Ed Peck, “Before our kids start coming home from Iraq in body bags and women and children start dying in Baghdad, I need to know, What did Iraq do to us?” Another features Ms. Garofalo asking a similar question of United Methodist Church Bishop Melvin Talbert. Both spots were produced by Avenging Angels, New York.
The networks’ justification for rejecting the anti-war ads appears to stem from the years when there were federal regulations that governed the broadcast of advocacy ads. In those years the networks were required to provide equal time for free to the other side. Those rules have faded, but the networks remain hesitant to air politically charged advocacy ads. “As a rule,” said a spokesman, echoing the attitude of all the broadcast networks, “CBS does not accept advocacy advertising.”
“It is amazing that the networks are rejecting them in terms of freedom of speech and censorship,” Mr. Cohen said. “The news media pretty much acts as the megaphone of the administration. The coverage is far from balanced. We are left with little choice but to buy time to get our message across. If as a practical matter you are not able to communicate a message, there is no free speech.”
A CNN official said the network has a policy not to accept issue ads on regions in conflict.
Mr. Cohen said a spot featuring hip-hop producer Russell Simmons, produced by Global Vision, New York, and ending with the line “tough inspections, not war,” was pulled off New York cable following complaints from viewers that its pictures of combat casualties were too graphic.
Also in the True Majority campaign: a spot featuring hip-hop artist Mos Def and another featuring “Judging Amy” stars Tyne Daly and Amy Brenneman.
Tom Andrews, national director of Moveon.org, also complained about the problem of buying ads. “The president of the United States has a pulpit second to none. But we believe it is only fair and right for the people of this country to hear the other side of this story. We expect the media to provide that fair opportunity.”
While there are no immediate plans for additional TV spots, Mr. Cohen said there are plans for print and perhaps radio ads asking war opponents to wear blue ribbons, signaling the color of the United Nations.
-Includes staff contributions by Electronic Media