Viacom Blitzed for Not Running Ad


A coalition of Democratic-leaning groups has launched a protest against Viacom Inc. -- including a raft of phone calls channeled directly to chairman Sumner Redstone’s office -- because the media giant’s network, Comedy Central, is refusing to run its ad.

The Let Us Decide coalition is urging the public to e-mail and phone Viacom as part of its protest. The group claimed that its members placed hundreds of calls to Redstone’s office Tuesday using a toll-free hotline the organization has set up, and it is also urging audiences to boycott Viacom’s major advertisers.

Coalition leader and member Compare Decide Vote, a youth-voting organization, said a draft of its animated TV spot was submitted to Comedy and was accepted Sept. 28, only to then be rejected Oct. 1, “citing instructions from senior management,” according to the group. The ad buy on Comedy was for $115,000, part of a $750,000 ad budget.

The “Play the Game” ad -- which is set up like a video game with a graphic style bearing some resemblance to Comedy’s SouthPark--compares President Bush’s and Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) three issues: the cost of college, minimum wages and the war in Iraq.

During a press-conference call Tuesday, Compare Decide Vote alleged that Viacom has a near-monopoly on the youth market, and that it has a responsibility to promote free speech on its networks.

In response, MTV Networks spokeswoman Jeanine Smartt said the company has a strict policy of not accepting any issue-oriented or advocacy ads on its channels. MTVN does accept political advertising on its networks, except for MTV: Music Television, but those commercials must be sponsored by political candidates, political parties or committees, she added.

Smartt also denied that MTVN is trying to hamper anyone’s freedom of speech in any way. “We speak to our audiences all the time in a nonpartisan way,” she said.

Because it can’t buy time on Comedy or networks like MTV and Spike TV, Compare Decide Vote now has to buy time on local cable and broadcast to reach potential young voters, which is pricier than buying time on a national network, according to director Lisa Seitz Gruwell.

The Let Us Decide coalition also pointed out that Redstone made remarks favorable to Bush in an interview with the Asian Wall Street Journal.

“Sumner Redstone has no problem using his Viacom bully pulpit to make his political views widely known,” Gruwell said in a prepared statement. “But when it comes to allowing free speech to young people on its networks, Viacom clearly has a double standard.”

The coalition being spearheaded by Compare Decide Vote also includes People for the American Way, Downhill Battle, 21st Century Democrats, Stonewall Democrats, New Democrat Network, The Youth Project and the American Progress Action Fund.