- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

CNN has refused to air a pair of 30-second announcements from two Jewish groups, citing a company policy that prohibits it from broadcasting "advocacy ads" about countries in conflict.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Israel 21 a nonprofit group focusing on Israel "beyond the Middle Eastern conflict" says the TV spots stress common ground between America and Israel.

"America is Israel's only real ally in the Middle East. Israel is a democracy that respects the rights of individuals and gives all citizens a right to vote. All people Christians, Muslims and Jews enjoy freedom of religion, press and speech," states the AJC spot, which can be seen on the group's Web site (www.ajc.org).

"In Israel, unlike other countries in the region, all people Christians, Muslims and Jews enjoy freedom of religion, press and speech," the announcement states.

The companion spot from Israel 21 offers similar content.

"These are messages about values. We want Americans to know just how much Israel and the United States have in common," spokesman Larry Weinberg said yesterday.

The news channel does not interpret it that way.

"CNN does not take international advocacy ads concerning regions in conflict. This is the same policy we applied when turning down ads that dealt with Egypt, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia," a CNN spokesperson said yesterday.

"Calling our announcements issue advocacy is wrong, and it's a bad business decision," countered Mr. Weinberg.

"It's outrageous," said AJC spokesman Kenneth Bandler.

Meanwhile, the spots have been airing on local cable outlets in the New York, Washington and Houston markets since Sept. 12, and will do so for several weeks.

"CNN was the only network we approached. When they refused us, we went to the local suppliers," said Mr. Bandler. "Our message is now on CNN, Fox, MSNBC in some large markets, and will eventually will be on the top 100 markets around the country."

Neither group is calling CNN anti-Semitic for its refusal to air the spots.

"But their response certainly feeds the perception that CNN is hostile," said a source close to the situation.

In recent years, CNN has been criticized by such organizations as the Anti-Defamation League and the Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting In America, a pro-Israel media-watchdog group based in Boston. Both claim CNN has an anti-Israel bias and has broadcast inaccurate or offensive content.

The situation was particularly piquant in June after CNN founder Ted Turner implied that Israel had engaged in terrorism against the Palestinians, prompting Israeli officials to condemn the remarks and consider banning CNN from the country's airwaves.

CNN's message, however, seems open to interpretation.

A minister in Yasser Arafat's Cabinet "welcomed Mr. Turner's comments," Britain's Guardian newspaper said at the time. "Many Palestinians complain just as bitterly of a pro-Israeli bias in CNN's coverage mocking it as the 'Zionist News Network.'"

CNN has collected critics elsewhere as well. Earlier this year, the Media Research Center called the network "a propaganda tool for Fidel Castro" in a study that found that CNN gave "six times as much airplay to communist spokesmen than non-communist spokesmen."

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