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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Private censorship of political speech

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell works against limits on campaign spending and often argues that this is a first amendment issue. Individuals, groups, and candidates ought to be able to spend money to disseminate political views.

What happens if (a) media oligopoly reduces the number of channels for distributing political views; and (b) media corporate policy aligns with one political party or faction in head-to-head conflict with another party?

I'm still in Missouri, and an old friend told me today about Viacom blocking access to Missouri Democrats who wanted to place political ads on billboards!

I found the story on the St. Louis Post Dispatch website:
The Missouri Democratic Party is sparring with one of the state's biggest billboard owners, who rejected the party's plan to erect an anti-Republican message on billboards in predominantly African-American areas in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Viacom Outdoor turned down the Democratic ad, which features the face of an African-American man next to the words, "Missouri Republicans Have A Plan. You Are Not Part Of It."
Like the CBS decision not to broadcast the MoveOn ads during the Super Bowl, this is a large media corporation limiting the dissemination of political speech.

Like the decision by Clear Channel this past week to fire Howard Stern, it also looks like the media corporation is claiming to impose decency standards to cover its censorship:
Carl Folta, a spokesman for Viacom Outdoor, disagreed and called the ad "deceptive" and "not in good taste." Among other things, he said the firm took exception to the use of a black person in the ad.

[Missouri state Democratic Party chairwoman May Scheve] Reardon noted that other local Viacom billboards promote gambling, beer and sex.
I guess skimpy bikini ads for beer are in good taste?

Update: Viacom, of course, owns CBS -- so this corporation seems to be making it very difficult for those from one political party to voice political opinions through its media outlets. Do you suppose Fox is worried about the competition?

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