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Yes, There is a Difference Between Smut and 'Issue' Ads, but it isn't Clear That CBS Knows the Difference or That it Cares

by Staff
February 1, 2010
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NEW YORK, ( -- According to news reports, what could be's "hottest ever" ad and Focus on the Family's pro-life "issue" ad will both air during this year's Super Bowl game. Morality in Media president Robert Peters had the following comments:

"It is no secret that loves to 'push the envelope' when it comes to the content of its ads; and it would appear that this year's GoDaddy Super Bowl ad may push as close to the indecency line as CBS Network 'censors' will allow, which could be as close as CBS thinks it can get away with.

"Smutty ads and halftime performances are, of course, nothing new during the Super Bowl, despite the fact that in countless homes the game is a family event with children of all ages watching. CBS is still in court fighting the $500,000 indecency fine which the FCC issued after Justin Timberlake tore Janet Jackson's bra off during a sexually oriented 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show performance.

"But this year, CBS appears to be on the verge of breaking a long tradition against airing 'issue ads' during the Super Bowl game. 'Issue' ads typically (PETA's offensive ads are an exception) offend not because they are vulgar or sexually oriented but because of the ideas they convey.

"Back in the good old days (1950s and 1960s), when the TV networks strove to provide programming that would appeal to the broadest possible audience, 'issue' ads had the potential to offend many viewers and reduce ratings. A ban on issue ads may have made sense, back then.

"But generally speaking, the networks are no longer concerned about offending a large part or even most of their potential audience. Their biggest complaint these days is that they can't get down low enough into the gutter to compete with the trash on cable TV channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz.

"But the Super Bowl, like the Olympics, is still a programming exception that continues to appeal to a broad audience of all ages.

"From a First Amendment perspective, of course, there still is an important difference between smut and speech on matters of public concern. The latter is at the core of First Amendment concern, whereas the former can be prohibited altogether if it is obscene and regulated if it is indecent.

"The question is, 'Does CBS still know the difference and does it care?'"

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