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Viacom Fights Suit Threat

Viacom last week was preparing a counterattack to a multibillion-dollar lawsuit the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) plans to file.

CSPI is putting the battle in Battle Creek, saying it will sue Viacom and major advertiser Kellogg for as much as $1 billion apiece for past ads and to block Viacom from running ads for so-called junk food in shows with more than 15% of the audience under age 8.

CSPI charges that the two are “directly harming kids' health” by marketing those ads to children under 8. The organization has been pushing media companies to cut out all such ads in kids shows, citing the rise in childhood obesity.

“We have been ahead of this issue for three years,” says Dan Martinsen, Viacom executive VP for corporate communications, of the company's pro-active campaign on kids' diet and health.

“We have been in the business of serving kids for 26 years,” he continues. “Their welfare is paramount, and anybody who knows our company knows that. The child-obesity issue is real and important, and we have been involved in developing holistic ways to really effect change.

“To infer anything different is ridiculous.”

Kellogg stands by its ads, saying they “accurately portray our products.”

Nickelodeon has several potential counters to CSPI, according to Martinsen. Among them:

  • Offering advertisers a price break on ads for healthy foods.
  • Conversations with advertisers that have led to “changes in labels, reduction in fat, sugar, sodium in product lines, as well as portion sizes and label improvements.”
  • Deals to put Nickelodeon characters like SpongeBob on packages of vegetables.
  • Committing $30 million over the next year to a campaign to combat childhood obesity.
  • Committing 10% of airtime to health-and-wellness messages.

Dan Jaffe, executive VP of the Association of National Advertisers, says the suit has little chance given the Supreme Court's “narrowly tailored” standard for ad-speech restrictions.

DeLay Ad Not False, Says FactCheck

The TV ad taking aim at former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) “strictly speaking” contains nothing false, although some claims are ambiguous.

That's according to FactCheck.org, the primarily Annenberg Foundation-funded monitor of the accuracy of claims made by politicians.

FactCheck says a reference to a $1 million contribution from Russian tycoons was not false, as DeLay's lawyer claimed.

“The worst we can say of the ad,” says the group, “is that its ambiguous wording could give casual viewers the impression that DeLay took $1 million directly, which isn't the case.”

Belo's KHOU Houston, for one, pulled the ad after receiving a letter from DeLay's attorney that, while not overtly threatening a lawsuit, cited case law supporting a defamation suit by a candidate against a station and said that, “because the ad is false, we demand that you refuse or otherwise cease airing the advertisement so as to avoid any legal liability,” according to KHOU General Manager Peter Diaz.

The ad, which links DeLay to, among other things, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, is running on cable systems in Houston, according to a spokesman for the groups, but is not on any broadcast outlets there, although the group is pushing for its carriage.

The DeLay ads, along with radio spots running in Ohio that are targeting Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), come from the Campaign for America's Future and the Public Campaign Action Fund, which are launching what they say will be a year-long effort “to expose congressional corruption.”

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