Truthout — Antiwar Group Says Its Ad Is Rejected

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Antiwar Group Says Its Ad Is Rejected
By Raymond Hernandez and Andrea Elliot
New York Times

Monday 12 July 2004
A group of antiwar advocates is accusing Clear Channel Communications, one of the nation’s largest media companies, with close ties to national Republicans, of preventing the group from displaying a Times Square billboard critical of the war in Iraq.
The billboard – an image of a red, white and blue bomb with the words “Democracy Is Best Taught by Example, Not by War” – was supposed to go up next month, the antiwar group said, and it was to be in place when Republicans from across the country gathered in New York City to nominate President Bush for a second term.
But members of the group, Project Billboard, contend that Clear Channel backed out of a leasing agreement last month that the two had reached in December for the billboard site, on the Marriott Marquis Hotel at Broadway and 45th Street.
A Project Billboard spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said the group planned to file a lawsuit today in federal court in Manhattan charging Clear Channel with breach of contract and asking it to live up to what the group said were the terms of the deal.
Last night, the president and chief executive of Clear Channel, Paul Meyer, said the company had objected to the group’s use of “the bomb imagery” in the proposed billboard. Mr. Meyer said Clear Channel had accepted a billboard that would replace the bomb with a dove. However, he said, any billboard at the site required the approval of the Marriott Marquis management, which he said also objected to the bomb.
“We have no political agenda,” Mr. Meyer said. “It’s the bomb imagery we objected to.”
A spokeswoman for the hotel, Kathleen Duffy, said that the management considered the ad with the bomb “inappropriate,” but that it had not seen the version with the dove.
Told of Mr. Meyer’s comments, Mr. Wolfson said that earlier, Clear Channel had rejected the ad with the dove as well as the one with the bomb, demanding that the words be changed, too. “It’s news to us, and not reflected in any prior communications between Clear Channel and Project Billboard,” Mr. Wolfson said last night. “This contradicts Clear Channel’s demand that the copy be changed.”
The dispute had led members of the antiwar group to accuse Clear Channel of censorship.
“I think the idea that political advertising is banned from some part of New York City would be repellent to New Yorkers,” Mr. Wolfson said. “I guess we can have a war, but we can’t talk about it.”
This is not the first time that Clear Channel, one of the nation’s largest owners of radio stations, has found itself in the middle of a debate over free speech and censorship.
The company has been accused of using its radio stations to rally support for the war in Iraq, while trying to silence musicians who oppose it.
The company’s critics point out, for instance, that some Clear Channel country music stations stopped playing the songs of the Dixie Chicks last year after the group’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, told fans during a London concert, “We’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”
The company’s critics also point out that the Federal Communications Commission is considering regulations that would make it easier for companies like Clear Channel to own more television and radio stations.
But even some of its fiercest critics agree that some claims against Clear Channel are overstated. As it turns out, for example, its stations were only sporadically involved in a boycott against the Dixie Chicks.
Part of what may be fueling speculation about the company’s motives is the close relationship that its executives have with the Republican Party and the Bush administration. In the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, for instance, the company and its officials donated slightly more than $300,000 in unregulated money, almost all of it to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization in Washington that monitors political contributions.
In addition, Tom Hicks, the Texas Rangers’ owner who has longtime ties to President Bush, is a top executive at Clear Channel.
Project Billboard’s representatives said the contract they signed in December with Spectacolor, a division of Clear Channel, required the antiwar group to pay $368,000 to use the billboard space from Aug. 2 through Nov. 2, Election Day.
But they said Spectacolor began balking after company officials saw the ad that included the image of the bomb. The group then sent a second ad, which replaced the bomb with a red, white and blue dove accompanied by the same words, but Mr. Wolfson said that was also rejected.
A lawyer for Project Billboard, Doug Curtis, said that at one point Clear Channel suggested that the group use a less provocative billboard ad, one with the image of a little girl waving a flag accompanied by the words, “Democracy is best taught by example.”
Mr. Curtis said that earlier this month, a vice president for marketing for Spectacolor and Clear Channel, Barry Kula, sent the group an e-mail message that said, in part, “We hope you will appreciate that New York City has endured a horrific attack and businesses in this area that serve a wide array of clientele are extremely sensitive to references to war.”
Project Billboard’s director, Deborah Rappaport, indicated that the reaction of Clear Channel executives was not a complete surprise given what she described as its poor record on free expression. “This is not the first time,” she said. “They try to suppress speech with which they don’t agree.”
The dispute between Clear Channel and the antiwar group drew a mixed reaction yesterday from visitors in Times Square.
When shown a printed copy of the antiwar ads that Clear Channel is said to have rejected, Nene Ofuatey-Kodjoe, 36, of Stamford, Conn., became visibly upset. “Clear Channel should not have a position one way or another about what they put up there as long as it’s not obscene,” he said.
He also scoffed at the alternative billboard proposed by Clear Channel, with a little girl waving the flag. “All the fence-sitting is what has gotten us to where we are today,” he said. “You have got to take a stand.”
Terry and Jim Baugh, two Californians strolling north on Seventh Avenue, said the image of the bomb bordered on treason. “That looks like they’re trying to blow up America,” said Mrs. Baugh, 59, a retired dental hygienist.