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Reuters Reverses Decision on United Methodist Times Square Advertising;
Billboard to Carry 'Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors' Message

October 29, 2003, NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) -- International media giant Reuters has reversed its earlier refusal to carry United Methodist "open hearts, open minds, open doors" advertising on its Times Square headquarters building.

In an Oct. 28 letter to the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of the denomination's communications agency, Reuters chief executive Thomas H. Glocer said he agrees with Hollon that the denomination should have "the same access to commercial space as any other organization."

" It reflects well upon the integrity of the company's leaders that they were not only open to listening to us but also that they moved quickly to consider a change in policy after hearing our concern," said Hollon, who heads United Methodist Communications, which administers the denomination's $21 million media campaign.

Glocer indicated that Reuters will move toward permitting "advertisement by religious organizations, subject to certain limitations."

Hollon had protested Reuters' refusal to honor a Sept. 23 contract with Outdoor Television Network Limited of Toronto for space on Reuters' 28-floor, 7,000 square-foot electronic billboard system. The site, which Reuters' Web site indicates is viewed by 1.5 million people daily, has been characterized as the centerpiece of New York's Times Square.

The most recent United Methodist television ad, "The Gift" was scheduled to run on the display's central billboard 10 times daily Nov. 17-30. Additional images from the denomination's Igniting Ministry media advertising campaign were to be featured.

Glocer's letter, Hollon said, "indicated that Reuters would welcome our campaign. Reuters is to be congratulated for its willingness to make this change. We look forward to the day when The United Methodist Church is present in Times Square on the Reuters electronic board."

After the initial denial of space and protests from United Methodist Communications, Reuters issued an apology for a misunderstanding between its outdoor advertising agency and the parent company. The advertising agency also had offered equivalent space for the Thanksgiving season.

Subsequent statements by Hollon and the communication commission of the National Council of Churches questioned the Reuters' policy, and whether religious organizations were being denied equal opportunity to advertising space.

"We asked for fairness and to be given the same opportunity to speak in the commercial marketplace," said Hollon. "This decision reflects fair consideration of our concern."

Hollon continued, "They took us seriously and have responded in a reasonable and balanced manner."

Hollon said the United Methodist television commercials appeared on 17 national cable and broadcast networks earlier this fall. They included: ABC Family Channel, AMC, Animal Planet, BET, CNN, Discovery Channel, Fox News Channel, CNN Headline News, HGTV, MSNBC, NBC, TBS, Telemundo, TLC, TNT, TV Land, Univision, USA Network, and The Weather Channel.

The television commercials are a major component of Igniting Ministry, the denomination's four-year U.S. media campaign. The denomination has 10 million members in the United States, Africa, Asia and Europe.

NOTE: The complete text of the letter from Thomas H. Glocer, chief executive of Reuters, follows.

Dear Reverend Hollon,

I have just returned from a week's travel to learn of the controversy regarding the United Methodist Church's proposed advertising on the electronic billboard at Reuters American headquarters at 3 Times Square.

As you know, Reuters building lease currently prohibits advertising of a predominantly religious or political character. The Reuters Trust principles require us to maintain Reuters independence, integrity and freedom from bias. Historically we have refused to take political or religious advertising in order to avoid any suggestion that we may be endorsing the organization or the view taken.

Your proposed advertisement and the evolution of our business has given us cause to reconsider our position. In the last two years, our media platforms have grown to offer millions of consumers an independent environment to consume insightful and timely news and information that is free from bias. As well as electronic billboards, Reuters carries advertising on its internet websites and print publications.

You state on your website that your church should be given the same access and opportunity to speak in the commercial marketplace as corporate advertisers. On reflection, I believe that you are right. Consumers have become more sophisticated over recent years, and I think there is little likelihood of an advertisement being viewed as the opinion of a news gatherer such as Reuters.

Provided it is made clear that the material in question is paid advertising and that there is no possibility of confusion with our news output, I believe you should have the same access to commercial space as any other organization.

Accordingly, I am asking my colleagues (led by Chris Ahearn, President - Media) to review the terms of our lease and our advertising policies in order to permit advertisement by religious organizations, subject to certain limitations. For example, we would not permit advertising that maligned another religion. Since your proposed advertisement, as described to me, would not raise such concerns, we would welcome your campaign.

I apologize for the apparent indecisiveness over your planned campaign. You have given us cause to review our thinking, and for that I am grateful.

Thomas H. Glocer


Story courtesy of United Methodist Communications.

See earlier story, "NCC Communication Commission Criticizes Reuters for Refusing to Sell Billboard Space to United Methodists"

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