WASHINGTON - January 28 - Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sent a letter today, cosigned by 26 other Members of Congress, to CBS President Leslie Moonves criticizing the network for its refusal to air a commercial for MoveOn.org. In the letter, Sanders and the other Members described CBS' censoring of the ad as "an affront to free speech and an obstruction of the public's right to hear a diversity of voices over the public airwaves."
Viacom's CBS has rejected MoveOn.org's effort to buy an advertisement during this year's Super Bowl. The ad is the winner of a competition held by MoveOn.org among creators of 30 second ad about President Bush. The network claims they do not run issue advocacy ads. Yet, they previously have run a White House ad on drug use during the game. Furthermore, CBS stations nationwide make tens of millions of dollars every election year by selling ad spots to issue advocates.
In the letter the Members wrote, "Issue ads are commonplace and important for democratic debate. Yet, CBS seems to want to limit that debate to ads that are not critical of the political status quo, and in the case of the MoveOn ad, of the President and by extension the Republican-controlled Congress. Apparently, CBS feels that the topic covered in this paid advertisement --the federal government's budget crisis --is inappropriate or irrelevant for American viewers, despite being one of the most critical issues of our day.
"The choice not to run this paid advertisement appears to be part of a disturbing pattern on CBS's part to bow to the wishes of the Republican National Committee. We remember well CBS's remarkable decision this fall to self-censor at the direction of GOP pressure. The network shamefully cancelled a broadcast about former President Ronald Reagan which Republican partisans considered insufficiently flattering."
Sanders concluded, "Denying MoveOn's 30 second spot about the federal budget deficit seems a thinly veiled political decision. I hope that Viacom's move is not in any way payback to the Bush Administration for its ongoing efforts to loosen federal rules to allow large companies like Viacom to own a larger and larger share of the media in this country. I hope it's not but the timing of CBS' censorship is troubling. Regardless, this seems to be the latest example of how concentrated power in the media system harms the public interest"
A copy of the Sanders' letter is here.