Comcast Corp.'s rejection of advertisements protesting a possible U.S. war with Iraq illustrates the need for federal rules to restrict the size of media companies, a consumer advocate said Wednesday.
"Comcast's rejection of an anti-war ad underscores the problem we have in the United States because of media consolidation," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "An ever-decreasing number of conglomerates control access to TV."
According to the Associated Press, a group called the Peace Action Education Fund planned to pay $5,000 to have six 30-second ads run on Cable News Network in the Washington, D.C., market around the time of President Bush's State of the Union address.
"Comcast runs advertisements from many sources representing a wide range of viewpoints, pro and con, on numerous issues of importance to the public," an MSO spokesman said. "However, we must decline to run any spot that fails to substantiate certain claims or allegations. In our view, this spot raises such questions."
Chester's group advocates for retention of various media-ownership rules that the Federal Communications Commission is considering relaxing or eliminating.
Chester said media-ownership caps would ensure that "a diverse marketplace of ideas" would not "be held hostage by giants like Comcast."
The FCC is nearing a decision on new cable ownership limits. Chairman Michael Powell said Wednesday that he didn't see a direct link between ad policies and the size of a cable company.
"I don't think that necessarily is attributable to being big or not," Powell told reporters. "Issues like that have been around public policy and the commission since the beginning of time."
Powell also expressed doubt that the agency could investigate Comcast's decision.
"I really don't want to comment on whether I think Comcast has done a good thing or bad thing. I am skeptical that we have much authority about what ads they carry," he added.
On the group's Web site (www.awvf.org), the ad's sponsors noted that Comcast has apparently run other anti-war ads, though apparently not on the same night as the State of the Union speech. The organization said it asked Comcast for a formal explanation of why the ad wasn't run.