Networks have responsibility for commercial content

Eight days ago, on Super Bowl Sunday, prime-time football got political.

CBS, the television station that presented the game on Feb. 7, chose to air a pro-life advertisement from anti-abortion interest group Focus on the Family featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mother Pam, and rejected a commercial from gay male dating site Mancrunch.

The Super Bowl is consistently the biggest advertising event of the year, even with the Winter Olympics closely following the football event. In choosing to air one controversial commercial over another one, CBS politicized the Super Bowl and shut out a significant portion of its audience, whether or not it intended to do so.

Most of the Super Bowl ads are seemingly chosen to appeal to a mass audience of about 100 million viewers. We see in the rest of the commercial planning — ads filled with appeals to nostalgia with classic athletes, such as Charles Barkley, or celebrities famous across multiple generations, such as Betty White — an attempt to appeal to everyone watching the big game.

Thus it seems out of character to air a political, staunchly pro-life commercial, particularly one with a message obscured by Tebow.

We recognize that CBS can run whatever commercials it wants; it has the right to be selective. But while this is true, CBS has a responsibility not to discriminate or run misleading ads, especially during such a big event that reaches Americans of so many disparate generations.

Moreover, CBS is suffering from a lack of transparency following its lack of judgment. All statements its executives have made to major media outlets about the decision have seemed terse and vague. For example, Jo Ann Ross, president of sales for CBS, told Reuters, “There’s still a lot to be said for live events that garner general interest.”

Even if the Mancrunch ad were inappropriate for prime-time football, as CBS appears to have deemed it, the network has a responsibility to its viewers to clearly explain why that potentially controversial commercial was any less suitable for the American public than the politically charged one from Focus on the Family.