Considered the biggest sporting event of the year, the Super
Bowl has become an internationally viewed production. While many
tune in for the game, many others consider the advertisements the
real highlight of the night. With prices this year averaging nearly
$2.3 million per 30-second ad, the Super Bowl is the biggest stage
for the hottest new commercials. Indeed, it is the commercials that
often garner the most conversation.
This year, the political group MoveOn.org ran an online contest
to design a political ad critical of President Bush. After
receiving thousands of commercials, MoveOn.org selected one and
prepared to run it during the Super Bowl. However, even though
MoveOn.org had the money, CBS refused to run the ad, saying it was
too “controversial” and that it was an unfair
“advocacy” commercial — in other words CBS said
that they don’t run ads that advocate political opinions.
While CBS may be within its right to refuse to run the commercial,
it is troubling that CBS would seek to deny one commercial space to
a group numbering in the millions operating at the grassroots level
while giving upwards of five advertising spaces to Budweiser beer
and several spaces to government-directed anti-drug ads.
CBS essentially favored supporting the economic agenda of
corporations while ignoring attempts to further democratic debate
or participate in free speech. Overall, commercial broadcasters
seem hesitant to use the airwaves — airwaves owned by the
public — for political discourse or controversial issues.
What good is democracy and free speech if networks that reach every
home television are unwilling to support it?
While denying the MoveOn.org ad for supposedly being too
political, CBS was quick to run the often-controversial anti-drug
commercials put out by the federal government. In years past, these
commercials have drawn inaccurate and misleading connections trying
to link drug use and teen pregnancy, accidental shootings, car
accidents and terrorism. They attempted to scare youth into not
using drugs through fear and poorly developed innuendo.
This year’s ads, while continuing the unfairly
administered and poorly targeted war on drugs, were a step in the
right direction. Instead of explicitly stating that drug use is
dangerous, they instead focused on abuse of drugs and alcohol with
a target on peers and parents who can help people in real need. By
targeting friends and family — those most likely to know if a
teenager needs help — the commercials seemed more concerned
with rehabilitation and assistance than criminalization and
fear-mongering. Hopefully this signals a new shift toward
eventually taking away the severe punishments associated with the
war on drugs that disproportionately affects minorities and
unfairly creates a cycle of abuse, with no hope of