SBD/January 2, 2014/Media

ESPN Ombudsman Examines Decision To Air Christian-Themed Ad After Initial Rejection

ESPN Ombudsman Robert Lipsyte in his most recent column noted an ad titled "Tree of Hope 2013" was "initially turned down by ESPN because it did not meet its advertising standards," but the net after "a storm of protest ... reversed its decision, stating that the ad did meet its standards, after all." The Missouri Valley Conference on Dec. 5 received a new PSA from St. Louis-based Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, then "submitted the ad to run on ESPN and, per contract, sought approval from the network’s commercial operations department." The ad "would be run without cost to the hospital" as a PSA and was slated to run on Dec. 14 during ESPNU’s VCU-Northern Iowa men's basketball game. However, Christian references in the ad "raised red flags at ESPN, and the spot was turned down, based on ESPN’s Guidelines for Standards and Practices on Advertising." Producers for Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" by Dec. 11 were calling ESPN and told the net there "would be an O’Reilly report on the matter that night." ESPN Exec VP/Administration Ed Durso said he then "made a decision, a business decision." Durso: "We accepted the original spot because this was not worth all this trouble." Durso said of ESPN's advertising policy, "Our overarching effort is not to choose sides. We don’t want to pick and choose. We want to stay neutral. We’re not a vehicle for social, religious, political issues. It’s not what we do." Lipsyte asked, "How will ESPN handle the coming minefield of issues surrounding the 2014 Olympics in Sochi?" Russia has "come under fierce criticism for passing national laws banning 'gay propaganda.'" Durso said, "We won’t take ads from GLAAD or from supporters of Russian attitudes against gay rights. We are not in that business" (, 12/31).
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