- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

CBS yesterday rejected a demand from the National Council of Women's Organizations to not televise the Masters golf tournament, escalating an already bitter fight over the membership policies of Augusta National Golf Club.

The NCWO, led by outspoken Martha Burk, has actively lobbied for changes to Augusta's all-male membership since June, and Wednesday made its latest salvo, angrily requesting CBS to stop airing golf's most prominent and popular tournament.

"The tournament is an event that is produced by and held at a facility owned by a for-profit corporation that is flaunting its practice of sex discrimination," Burk wrote in her letter to CBS, publicly released yesterday. "CBS [is] an active underwriter of an organization that discriminates against half of its viewers."

In a separate statement, Burk went on to call the Masters on TV "a two-day commercial for the good old boy way of life."

CBS quickly responded yesterday, saying not airing the Masters "would be a disservice to fans of this major championship," according to CBS Sports president Sean McManus. The network will air the 2003 tournament in April, as scheduled. As a result, Burk said the NCWO will now focus on pressuring individual Augusta National members, particularly ones who are chief executives of major corporations.

"Virtually every one of these companies these executives represent have clearly stated principles against discrimination of any kind," Burk said. "As a result, they need to be held accountable for what is clearly a violation of those principles."

Burk said she has acquired a "critical mass" of names of Augusta National members from private sources. Augusta National has jealously guarded its membership rosters, and persons can only become members by invitation.

Another potential avenue of protest for the NCWO might be filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. In its letter to CBS, Burk alluded to the FCC and its requirements upon broadcasters to operate in the public interest.

The latest NCWO letter was expected. But it still represented something of a surprise because in recent days Burk had hinted at pursuing some kind of cooling-off period. Since June, the women-at-Augusta issue has been a hotly debated topic coast to coast and a source of frustration and concern for Burk; Augusta National and it's chairman, Hootie Johnson; CBS and prominent Masters sponsors Citigroup, Coca-Cola and General Motors. Burk has even said the Augusta National issue, while by far NCWO's most prominent fight, is not its most important.

"I really expected more from CBS," Burk said. "[CBS president] Les Moonves in particular has been such an advocate for women's rights. I really thought they'd give this more consideration."

USA Network, which broadcasts the first two days of the Masters tournament, has not been targeted by the NCWO.

Private organizations such as Augusta National are free to set their own membership policies, and thousands of groups do so. That in turn has caused a lack of complete unanimity of opinion on Augusta within the women's movement. But Burk and the NCWO, which represents more than 160 women's groups, have argued against Augusta's membership stance on more moral grounds, and have highlighted anti-discrimination policies held by Viacom Inc., parent company of CBS, as well as Citigroup, Coca-Cola and General Motors.

Johnson, fearing a backlash against those three companies, last month told them the 2003 Masters would air free of TV commercials. The Masters was already an anomaly in TV sports, with just four minutes per hour of ads from those three companies, compared to an average of about 16 minutes per hour in other TV sports.

Augusta National officials, who have strongly criticized Burk's efforts, declined to comment yesterday. FCC officials also declined comment on the exchange of letters. FCC stated policies, however, suggest that Burk and the NCWO will have a difficult time pressuring CBS via that federal route.

Broadcasters historically have been granted large latitude in its programming content, with the only major exception being decency standards with regard to children. An FCC fact sheet states that "expressions of views that do not involve a 'clear and present danger of serious substantive evil' come under the protection of the Constitution."

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