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GARNER & SMITH BOOKSTORE 2116 Guadalupe Austin, Texas 78705 Please send Texas Wild at $25.00 per copy. 0 remittance enclosed 0 charge my account Name Address City State Zip Please add appropriate salex tax & 754 postage per copy. dential primaries were getting underway and the divestiture bill was before the Senate, the commissioners scoffed. They ordered the station owners to remedy the imbalance created by the Texaco commercial. Now, let it not be said that the station owners overlooked a good defense in the First Amendment. No one representing WTOP overlooked the First Amendment, though it was rarely called by name. More often there were squishy At stake is the right to have all sides of a major national issue explained not just the reality offered by the rich. declarations like, “WTOP-TV wishes to retain its flexibility to use its best news and programing judgment with respect to energy issues.” Never mind whether there is really any news judgment involved in deciding to broadcast a Texaco commercial. The FCC long ago resolved the freedom of speech issue in favor of the “affirmative” interpretation of the First Amendment best expressed by Supreme Court Justice Byron White: “It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcsters, which is paramount. . . . It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, aesthetic, moral and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here.” Put another way, the amendment was written to protect the citizens’ right to know rather than Texaco’s right to advertise. EAC lawyers hope the impact of the Texaco-WTOP decision will force broadcasters to either cut back on issue advertising or offer free response time to non-oil interests, but they’re prepared to build on the precedent established in their recent victory. Since NBC and ABC, at least, seem reluctant to run afoul of the fairness doctrine \(and be forced by the FCC to give ing efforts in the form of countercommercials, much like those produced in 1974 by California’s Public Media Center in response to the oil industry’s official explanation of the energy shortage: An intelligent-sounding, middleaged executive stands beside an Edsel, saying, “Well, big business has tried to sell the American people on many things in the past. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.” EAC’s chief counsel, Jim Flug, acknowledges the superficiality of the Edsel ad, but argues that “oil company ads are clever and simplistic. It’s very hard to respond to them without being clever and simplistic.” Mobil Oil has offered to pay for rebut tal spots if the networks get any complaints about Mobil’s advocacy advertising, but it’s not clear whether that offer would extend to the “Edsel” ad. Energy Action hasn’t had much luck yet in taking Mobil up on their offer. Last summer, before filing his fairness complaint, Flug wrote a three-page letter to Mobil board chairman Rawleigh Warner, asking him to honor the oil company’s pledge. Flug received a onesentence reply from Mobil vice president Herbert Schmertz: “Dear Jim: I have just finished reading your letter of June 18 to Rawleigh Warner Jr. and I consider it the height of chutzpah.” A likelier prospect is an agreement among EAC, the networks, and the oil industry to screen commercials for issue advocacy before they go on the air. EAC’s goal here would be the reduction of the oil industry’s impact on news and public affairs programing. In this connection, Flug recalls with some distress “a network newscast sponsored entirely by Exxon, which used most of its spot time to extol the Alaskan pipeline, on a night when the lead story showed President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger in Alaska extolling the pipeline, and another story covered the industry’s point of view on the natural gas issue.” After the FCC’s decision in the WTOP case, Flug wrote to the networks, asking them whether the oil companies “should be able to purchase a piece of the credibility of Cronkite / Chancellor / Brinkley / Reasoner / Walters, who have the biggest trust ratings in our land. And should the network newscasters be required to have their high standing diluted and sullied by their identification with thoroughly untrusted issue claims of Big Oil?” Flug doesn’t think they should, and makes these three suggestions: eliminate issue ads from news programing, limit the number of ads a single sponsor can get on a news show \(Exxon is now sole sponsor for NBC’s Saturday night to make a serious offer to pay for response time. Whatever the networks’ answers, they’ll have to come quickly to satisfy Flug. With the release of the Carter energy plan, he says, “we’re facing the beginning of a perhaps year-long inten sive national debate on these issues,” and, quoting from the WTOP complaint he filed before the FCC, “divestiture ad vocates are hopeful and confident that the legislative decision on divestiture will ultimately be made on the merits, and not on the basis of which side has more and better advertising and ‘P.R.’ ” 0 Bill Fenton is a research analyst for the U.S. Justice Dept. and a Washington-based freelance writer.
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