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Super PACS and Sesame Street: Court OKs Political Ads on Public Broadcasting

Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.

Isn’t that exciting news? While watching Sesame Street or The News Hour, or listening to Morning Edition or The Thistle and Shamrock, you may be treated to the same political ads that commercial broadcasters air. Actually, maybe PACS and campaigns would tweak the ads. That could be interesting, to see what marketers come up with for public station audiences as compared to what they design for commercial station audiences.

This court decision (a panel vote, of 2-1) was announced last week. From Free Press:

Free Press Urges Public Broadcasters to Reject Attack Ads

On Thursday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a ban on political advertising on public television and radio stations. The court said that permitting this type of advertising would not threaten or undermine the educational nature of public broadcast stations. It upheld the ban on advertising by commercial and for-profit companies.

Wait. Bans on advertising by “for-profits” are still banned? Then how on earth could political candidates of the Duopoly be free to run ads? Same for Super PACS, and Democratic and Republican party ads. All are, in fact, as much for-profits as say, BP or Bank of America. But then, since corporations are people, and so can donate as much money as they want to political campaigns, wouldn’t they already have the right to run political ads anyway? Deciding when a corporation is a “person” and when it’s a “for-profit” seems to require a good bit of legislative and court definitions and rulings.

Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron made the following statement:

‘Polluting public broadcasting with misleading and negative political ads is not in keeping with the original vision of noncommercial broadcasting. And it’s certainly not the solution to funding public media.

‘At a time when people are turning to public broadcasting to get away from the flood of nasty attack ads, viewers don’t want to see Sesame Street being brought to them by shadowy Super PACs.’

Or maybe not even that “shadowy.” They have no worries, these Super PACS. They know when they’re a business and when they’re a person, because they tell the legislators, and increasingly, apparently the courts as well, how to define each.

So the kids watching Zoom or Postcards from Buster or the Electric Company might be treated to a smiling Mitt and/or Barack, surrounded by a group of carefully diverse and photogenic kids. I wonder, would it trickier, or easier, to run ads during Democracy Project? And Sid the Science Kid — that could be really interesting, to see what a Republican Super PAC, in particular, would do with the subject of science.

From another Free Press piece:

NPR and PBS: Just Say No

While the Justice Department reviews the court’s decision, Free Press is urging NPR and PBS to reject these ads outright. And some stations have already taken a stand.

KPBS in San Diego has stated that it will not accept political advertising on its station. ‘It’s not our intention to make money off elections via political advertising – rather, KPBS will remain committed to educating the voters.’

That’s another point, isn’t it? Given cuts in funding and struggles in general, this will surely look very tempting to some, maybe many, public broadcasters.

A Reuters’ report included a quote from Norman Ornstein, “resident scholar” at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Interestingly, Ornstein doesn’t like the ruling, saying

… the decision could ‘fundamentally change the character of public television and radio’ … .

‘This is just going to move us further away from what remains of a public square. … To be truthful, it scares me to death.’

“Public squares,” figuratively and literally, are moving in the privatized direction. Commercialization follows. Well, it actually leads, of course, but we aren’t supposed to talk about that.

Of course, it isn’t as if public broadcasting hasn’t already undergone some “fundamentally change of character” kind of transitions. This court ruling is just a more blatant step in that same general direction of 1% control. Like Citizens United. “(For profit) Corporations are people” really means the handful of people at the top get to spend money to help insure their preferences become the law of the land. With this recent ruling — and if it’s upheld — we now know that “Corporations are the public,” too.

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6 Responses to Super PACS and Sesame Street: Court OKs Political Ads on Public Broadcasting

  1. fangio April 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    That’s a surprising ruling coming from the ninth circuit, at one time they were dependably left of center. I guess Mr. Bush was successful in changing the balance for the worse. You know, once you come to the conclusion that you can’t trust judges anymore, or that the judges have become politically corrupted by politicians beholden to corporate money, you begin to feel as if this country is no different then a banana republic. I guess Bush and his minions were able to achieve one of their primary goals; to politicize just about everything. I was hoping I’d be dead before the shit hit the fan or somebody dropped a bomb, but now I’m not so sure.

    • Joyce Arnold April 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

      It is particularly worrisome, when the judiciary is involved. And I’ve not noticed that much conversation about the judicial appointments Obama has / wants to make.

    • AliceP April 19, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      Other obvious signs of a banana republic:

      Bussing in paid “supporters” to rallys to make the candidate look like he has lots of popular support

      Caging protesters in an area where no one will see them to silence them

      Re-drawing voting districts so they are not connected to geography or community but to where political supporters live to insure one party dominance

      These in addition to the corruption in Washington (revolving door of lobbyists) and state houses (letting groups like ALEC create legislation instead of the peoples representatives)

      • Joyce Arnold April 19, 2012 at 8:25 am #

        Excellent examples. The caging thing is going to be interesting to watch in Chicago, at the NATO Summit protests, among other places.

  2. secularhumanizinevoluter April 18, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    After Citizens United the worst court ruling in my lifetime…..so far.

    • Joyce Arnold April 19, 2012 at 8:27 am #

      Citizens United has to be one of the most blatant examples of, to use Occupy language, the power of the 1% that I’ve seen. And you’re right, to include that “so far.”

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong