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NCC Communication Commission Criticizes Reuters
For Refusing to Sell Billboard Space to United Methodists

See Related Story: Reuters Reverses Its Policy, Allows United Methodist Ads

October 27, 2003, NEW YORK CITY -- The Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches, whose members direct the communication programs of more than 30 national denominations, has issued a statement concerning the refusal of Reuters Corporation to sell space to the United Methodist Church on Reuters' electronic billboard in New York's Times Square. 

Reuters canceled its billboard agency's $30,000 Thanksgiving-week contract with United Methodists solely on the basis of its policy not to accept any religious advertising, regardless of content.  (For full version of the story, from United Methodist Communications: click here; follow-up story, click here).

The Commission's statement follows:

Religious faith is a major force in Americans' lives.  More Americans attend worship each week than attend sports events.  Religion has a rightful place in the public square and an important role in the national discourse.  Free expression of ideas, guaranteed under the Bill of Rights, makes the American democracy work.


But today, the public square is becoming increasingly like private property, overtaken by larger and larger corporations who control more and more of our channels of communication, from cable to broadcast networks to newspapers to billboards.  If we get to the point where a handful of corporations can buy up the walls of the town square and rule that certain topics, like religious faith, cannot be expressed there -- even when those who wish to speak are willing to pay for the opportunity -- American democracy will truly be at risk.  


What is it that these corporations -- and by extension, society -- are afraid of?  The voices of faith?  Are we afraid that hearing these voices could change the agenda of the conversation from consumption to conscience?   The public is daily barraged by a torrent of legitimate messages about buying and selling; the soft-spoken message of faith is about meaning and purpose.  If religious speech is banned from the public marketplace, the remaining dialogue will revolve solely around getting and spending.  But life is about more than this.  The community of faith should be allowed to say so and let people decide for themselves.


To imply that religious and political speech might be in the same class with messages that are "pornographic... libelous, misleading or deceptive in nature," as Reuters did in explaining its refusal to carry the United Methodist ad, is a frightening use of the power of media ownership. The fact that 17 broadcast and cable networks and scores of local TV stations have already carried the United Methodist ad is evidence enough that the problem is not with the ad -- it is with Reuters' policy.  


The free and vigorous expression of ideas and values, and the positive message of religious faith in particular, is an essential ingredient in the American way of life, especially in these days of religious pluralism and the need for mutual understanding.  We call upon Reuters and other corporations who have similar policies to rethink the perilous path some of them have begun to travel. 


Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches
Eric C. Shafer, chair, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Chicago, IL
Ann Gillies, vice chair, Presbyterian Church (USA), Louisville, KY
Robert Chase, secretary, United Church of Christ, Cleveland, OH
Larry Hollon, treasurer, United Methodist Communications, Nashville, TN
Wesley M. "Pat" Pattillo, NCC Associate General Secretary for Communication, New York, NY

And the following faith communication professionals who have added their names to the statement:

J. Martin Bailey, Worldwide Faith News, West Orange, NJ
Fr. Bob Bonnot, San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, Los Angeles CA
David Chandler, American Baptist Churches in the USA, Valley Forge, PA
Edward Cimafonte, The Episcopal Church, New York, NY
Paul Edison-Swift, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Chicago, IL
Dan England, The Episcopal Church, New York, NY
Joan Gaylord, Christian Science Committee on Publication, New York, NY
Deanna Hollenbach, Moravian Church in North America, Bethlehem, PA
Steve Horswill-Johnston, United Methodist Communications, Nashville, TN
Tom Lapacka, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, St. Louis, MO
Kermit Netteburg, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Silver Spring, MD, and Simi Valley, CA
Dianna Ott, Presbyterian Church (USA), Louisville, KY
David W. Reid, Vital Theology Journal, Fort Collins, CO
Richard Schramm, American Baptist Churches in the USA, Valley Forge, PA
Jim Solheim, The Episcopal Church, New York, NY
Nikki Stephanopoulos, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, New York, NY
Philip Tanis, Reformed Church in America, Grand Rapids, MI


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