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TV Snubs Incense Birth Control Campaigners : Major Television Outlets Have Declined to Air Controversial Messages

August 02, 1985|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Bouncing out of a bus, an attractive young woman confidently proclaims: "I intend to be President." A second young woman, toiling over a word processor and surrounded by books, declares: "I intend to go back to school." Finally, a third young woman is shown standing over her stove. She is very, very pregnant. "I intended to have a family," she says. "But not this soon."

Prepared for television, magazines and newspapers and radio, variations of this script are part of a $100,000 public-education and media campaign unveiled here this week by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and designed to combat a national unintended pregnancy rate of 3.3 million annually and a teen-age pregnancy rate that is among the highest of developed countries.

Request Rejected

While well received by test audiences, the group's Dr. Luella Klein revealed in announcing the program, three major television networks have declined to air the messages on grounds that the subject matter was too controversial.

Klein said the ad campaign had drawn positive responses from Cable News Network, Lifetime Cable, many Spanish-speaking local stations and a number of women's magazines. But CBS, ABC and NBC rejected outright ACOG's requests to air the spots, Klein said.

"Birth control and contraception are a very controversial issue," said George Schweitzer, CBS vice president for communications, in explaining that network's decision not to broadcast the ACOG announcements.

"We do not provide public service time or paid commercial time to organizations or individuals who want to espouse a particular point of view."

In the view of his network, Schweitzer said: "The issue of birth control and contraception is best left to our news and public-affairs coverage, where both sides of the issue are well represented. It is well covered in news and public affairs at all times of the day on the network and local level, with a focus on the balance of the story."

ABC's Jeff Tolvin, director of the business information, said: "What you have to understand is that we are not taking issue with birth control; we are saying this is not consistent with our public-service announcement policy. This proposed spot involves the discussion of a controversial issue of national public importance, which we feel is not suitable for a public-service announcement."

Said Tolvin: " We feel that type of a controversial issue is best treated either on a news program or in an advocacy (paid) commercial."

At NBC, press spokesman Stan Appenzeller said Thursday the network would not air the ACOG messages because "it is controversial, and it is against our policy of not airing controversial spots."

But Klein, for one, was clearly unsatisfied with this response. "Frankly," she said, "I have a great feeling of disappointment, almost despair. It's hard to believe that they should define as controversial something that 90% of the American public believes belongs in the public schools."

Either News or Ad

Klein said she had written network executives "reminding them that their attitudes are of the '60s."

She said she found the networks' reticence to air the ACOG messages curious in light of the type of programming that dominates commercial television.

"We really feel that television pervades our lives," Klein said. "Television especially sets the tone for much of the behavior in the country, including sexual behavior. Many teen-agers feel that sex life is like what they see on TV--all this instant intimacy and bedroom scenes, but no mention of pregnancy or sexual responsibility.

"My own feeling is that what they see on television between the sheets needs some context of sexual responsibility. You see all this sexuality, but you never see the results of the sexuality."

Said Klein, taking a stab at one sometimes-steamy CBS program: "We all know that sex sells programs. 'Dallas' is not a story about a town."

Klein, immediate past president of the OB/gyn organization of 25,000 physicians and director of the new public-education campaign, also discussed the background of the project. "About 36 million women every year face the problem of preventing an unintended pregnancy," Without contraception, she said, "the average sexually active woman would face 14 births or 31 abortions during her reproductive years." And, she added, "this would be a mind-boggling disruption of her life."

About one-half of the 6-million-plus pregnancies in the United States every year are unintended, said Klein. In turn, one-half of those unintended pregnancies are terminated each year by abortion.

Poll of Attitudes

But as Klein and her OB/gyn colleagues discovered in commissioning a Gallup poll of attitudes toward contraception last January, doubts, fears and confusion about the safety and risks of contraception continue to plague an alarming number of women. Of 1,000 women and 500 men surveyed, Klein said, 76% of the women and 62% of the men felt there was "substantial risk" in using oral contraceptives.

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