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DAVID ROSMAN: Graphic political ads have no place on TV's biggest stage

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:47 p.m. CST, Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mr. Terry, have you no concern with our nation’s social morals of decency? Have you no soul?

Sunday is the Super Bowl. Tuesday is our "beauty pageant" of a primary election. I expect that the political ads will be hitting our airways quickly and ad nauseam.

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One political commercial seems to have jumped the gun, at least in the news, though it is not scheduled to show until sometime on Feb. 5.  Here’s the headline from KYTV-3 in Springfield:

"Presidential candidate will run graphic anti-abortion ad during Super Bowl."  

Presidential candidate Randall Terry and the Committee for Terry for President will be running their anti-abortion ads in Springfield, Kansas City, St. Louis and here in Columbia.  

Terry, who is on Tuesday's Missouri primary ticket, is placing an anti-abortion "political" ad during the Super Bowl in 25 swing-state cities. He is a single-agenda candidate — an extreme anti-abortion agenda. My attempts to contact the Terry for President offices have gone unanswered.

If you elect to watch the commercial on Terry's website, TerryforPresident.com, or on NBC, be warned, it is a very graphic, no-holds-barred 30-second anti-abortion commercial. How graphic? Pictures of aborted fetuses and fetus parts.

By the way, Terry is running as a Democrat. Really, right under Barack Obama.

My concern is pointed and involves a news report from KY3 in Springfield.

Anchor Steve Grant's introduction to the story caught my ears. "Randall Terry is airing the political commercial in Springfield and two dozen other cities. KY3's Linda Russell attended his news conference and has more tonight on why TV stations must broadcast his ad."

"Must?"

KY3's General Manager Brian McDonough said in the report, "If Randall Terry was a normal advertiser, this ad would not air.  It doesn't meet the community standards that we've established."

My question was simple: Why must the television station run the advertisement?

Russell continued:

"But Terry, a long time anti-abortion advocate, is now a registered presidential candidate. 'We, under federal law, are obligated to run these ads. We cannot alter them, and we cannot reject them,' McDonough said."

Marty Siddall, General Manger of KOMU 8, told me that Terry has also purchased time on Columbia’s NBC affiliate and agreed with McDonough — it must be shown.

Frank Forgey of the Missouri Broadcasters Association believes that the position of "must air" is correct, as Terry appears to be a legitimate candidate.

So I did what I do best and went to FCC.gov and searched for the applicable law. I did find the following.

To be considered a "legitimate" candidate, one must either be filed as a candidate in state, or if she or he has qualified in at least 10 states then that person is considered qualified U.S. wide.

Section 73.1941 [47 CFR §73.1941] Equal Opportunities. (e) "Discrimination between candidates" simply says that the broadcaster cannot censor a presidential candidate's political advertising in any way.

But if the station uses the same "reasonable and prudent person" rules for all federal candidates' commercials, does that still constitute "censorship?" The answer is yes. "Censorship" includes refusal to air.

In this game of campaign poker, "statute" trumps "reasonable and prudent." With only a few exceptions, such as obscenity, threat to national security and so on, statutes are the ace in the hole and the feds hold three in their hand.

• Section 326 says that with only the exceptions indicated above, the FCC cannot censor what a station says. In other words, unless it is obscene or a how to build weapons-grade anthrax, a station can air near anything it likes.

• Section 315 is simple. If a candidate has purchased airtime, the station cannot censor that advertisement. That includes rejecting the advertisement for any reason.

• Section 312 states that a federal candidate for office must be given reasonable access.

The threat of punishment is real. Section 73.1944 [47 CFR §73.1944] (a) "… the Commission may revoke any station license or construction permit for willful or repeated failure to allow reasonable access to, or to permit purchase of, reasonable amounts of time for the use of a broadcasting station by a legally qualified candidate for federal elective office on behalf of his candidacy."

There is no guaranty that Terry's commercial will be seen during the Super Bowl itself. The law subscribes that a candidate cannot buy a specific time slot and if the slots for the Super Bowl are already filled, Terry and the other candidates will not air just before Madonna.

In addition, if another presidential candidate, let's say the president, wants to put up a graphic pro-choice commercial as a candidate, the station must provide that presidential candidate equal access.

The real question involves the First Amendment guarantees to free speech.  

Terry's situation falls under the same First Amendment rules as other groups spouting their religious or political positions, whether it is a renegade church, a white supremacist group, even radical Jihadists. Radical and hate speech are constitutionally protected. So is stupidity.

With statute supported by Supreme Court rulings and the Constitution, it looks like Terry is standing on solid ground.

However, as citizens we do have the ability to censor. You’ll be warned in the beginning of Terry’s commercial of its graphic nature. If you believe that Terry has crossed that line of being unacceptably graphic, or a message you find outside your religious or political standards, or outside our society’s moral code, turn off the television.

We have a second chance to show our national morality and personal revulsion — on Election Day, Feb. 7. If you wish to vote the Republican ticket, please do so, you have 10 candidates to choose from. If you wish to vote the Democratic ticket, vote for anyone but Terry, like the guy at the top of the list.  This is why your vote on Tuesday is so important.

In this poker game, our collective national morals — those set by the citizens of this great country — trump any political ad, no matter how constitutionally protected it is.

Our remotes, our votes and our pens are indeed powerful weapons.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.


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Comments

Michael Williams February 1, 2012 | 12:34 p.m.

Out of sight.
Out of mind.
Great philosophy.

But...hey...I do it, too. I only made it through 4 minutes of the SOTU address.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman February 1, 2012 | 4:37 p.m.

Michael, my favorite radical conservative, you gave me a good laugh. Really. Thanks

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 1, 2012 | 4:45 p.m.

Well Dave, my favorite radical liberal, I'm always trying to help.

Really.

Thanks.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman February 4, 2012 | 11:49 a.m.

Since my original column had been printed, Politico is reporting that the FCC has ruled Terry as not being a legitimate candidate.
http://www.politico.com/news/stories/021...

All hail good judgement over bad morals.

David

(Report Comment)

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