Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Freedom of the Press in Tampa

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Freedom of the Press in Tampa

Article excerpt

Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo., is engaged in a national series of "Love Won Out" conferences aimed at persuading gays and lesbians that they can change their sexual orientations through Christian faith and "conversion" therapy.

One of the conferences was scheduled for Feb. 26 in Tampa, Fla. There are many Baptist and Catholic churches, among others, in the area, as well as a sizable community of gays and lesbians.

When Focus on the Family tried to place ads announcing the conference, it discovered - as it pointed out - that "celebrating diversity only goes so far."

The promotion company placing ads in bus shelters flatly refused to run the ads. So did the secular radio stations in and around Tampa. One of them, WSSR-FM, momentarily slipped up. A 10-second spot did get on the air, and the co-host of the morning show, Carmen Connors, immediately apologized to any listeners who might have been offended. No other ads for the "Love Won Out" conference ran on the station.

Except for Christian radio stations, the only other venue where Focus on the Family could place its ads was The Tampa Tribune (211,055 weekday circulation, 300,738 Sunday).

The story itself was covered frequently by the paper's religion reporter, Michelle Bearden. She gave careful attention to all sides of the contentious event through interviews and background details. Bearden also reports for WFLA-TV, an NBC affiliate, and her broadcasts were fed to 200 NBC TV affiliates around the country.

One of the Focus on the Family ads appearing in the Tribune was titled, "Tired of Being Gay?" Another advised, "Homosexuality Is Preventable." There were angry complaints to the paper.

Said Tribune Publisher Reid Ashe - quoted in one of Bearden's stories - "We have a mission here, and that's to provide a forum of advocacy for all sides. I understand these people have an emotional investment. But the people who don't share their same viewpoint have the right to express their views, too."

Ashe had been asked whether he'd accept an ad titled, "Tired of Being Straight?" Each ad, he said, is reviewed one at a time. "The newspaper's policy," he explained, "is that if someone shows up with an ad and a payment, we will determine then if it's acceptable. We don't knowingly accept ads that are misleading or advertise illegal goods and services."

The Focus on the Family conference took place peacefully Feb. …

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