November 27, 2000

Why we run ads that make people mad

Josh Renaud

Well, it's that time of year again and I don't mean Christmas time. Every year, without fail, The Current manages to run one or more advertisements that offend folks on campus. So every year, this space is used to explain how The Current determines what advertisements it will and won't accept.

This year, we've received a grand total of two complaints. One person cried foul when we ran a Yahoo! advertising insert, and another was unhappy with the full-color, full-page Rooster chewing tobacco ad that ran a few weeks ago. Next semester, readers will get the chance to see a couple pro-life inserts that will undoubtedly make some people upset.

We should probably establish a few things. First of all, The Current does not endorse the products or services of any of our advertisers. Neither does the University of Missouri. You can read our fine print every week in the staff box on page 2.

Second, we don't filter our advertisements simply because we dislike an ad or disagree with it. We stand behind the first amendment which guarantees freedom of speech. This University, after all, is supposed to be a "marketplace of ideas," and the newspaper is in the same mold. We'd rather not be known as a "marketplace of only the ideas we agree with."

The Current, like many other college newspapers, uses a three-point criteria for determining if we should hold an advertisement. We will hold any ads that promote an illegal product or service, are basically false or libelous, or would be likely to incite a riot.

These criteria are based on Supreme Court decisions and a body of case law over the past 25 years. Time and again, the Supreme Court has held that "commercial speech" (another term for ads) cannot be regulated by the state any more than other types of speech. Controversial or not, advertisers are protected by the first amendment, too.

So how does the process work? We receive most of our "national" ads by insertion order. That means an advertising agency sends us a written notice that they have an ad they want to place. We don't solicit these ads.

If an ad is likely to cause controversy, the agencies will often send it to us for review before we accept it. The Current's executive committee (made up of the editor-in-chief, the managing editor, the business manager, and the advertising director) will meet and discuss the advertisement.

If the advertisement fails the three-point test, then we will usually hold it. Occasionally we will receive an ad that falls into a grey area. In that case, we will usually discuss it and then vote on it. The decision is never made lightly.

So, to those who have been or will be offended by the advertisements, here's a suggestion for you: exercise your free speech rights. Send us a letter or a guest commentary, and explain why you disagree with the ads we've run. Take advantage of the public forum we offer. After all, that's what the "marketplace of ideas" is all about.

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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