Magazine article The American Prospect

TV's Last Taboo

Magazine article The American Prospect

TV's Last Taboo

Article excerpt

When it comes to sexual content on network television, broadcasting is an ever more risque business. Yet in one small corner of the TV industry, a peculiar standard prevails: Straightforward and frank television advertising for contraceptives is almost as unheard of as it was in the Father Knows Best era.

In a recent moment of absurdity, the Fox network denied a contraceptive company an advertising time slot during its sexual-adventure show Temptation Island. The rejected ad was for Encare, a spermicide product made by Blairex Laboratories. "Here's a program that revolves around the premise of promiscuity," says Al Kestnbaum, president of Encare's advertising agency, Chestnut Communications in Greenwich, Connecticut. "I'm grasping for understanding [about] why they won't have our products" Kestnbaum says his understanding of Fox's ad policy is that disease-prevention claims are acceptable but that messages about unwanted pregnancy are not.

The network bias against birth control is even more puzzling given changes in recent years governing pharmaceutical advertising. The Food and Drug Administration used to insist that drug companies refrain from"direct-to-consumer" advertising for prescription drugs. But in 1997, the FDA changed its policy. The result has been a flood of ads for such products as Claritin (for allergy relief) and Eipidor (to control high cholesterol), as well as the ubiquitous Viagra ads targeted at erection-impaired males. So why not open up the airwaves to contraceptives, many of which, after all, do not require a prescription and have a wider potential market than new products such as Viagra?

The networks' dubious explanation: It's a matter of taste and respect for community standards. (Read: We don't want the Christian right yelling at us.) There are no federal regulations directly prohibiting ads on TV for condoms, spermicides, or birth control pills. …

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