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Reuters reconsiders policy against religious advertising

10/29/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn.-The controversy surrounding a policy against religious advertising on an electronic billboard in New York's Times Square has compelled the Reuters communications company to reconsider its position.

United Methodist Communications had planned to showcase the United Methodist Church's message of "open hearts, open minds, open doors," along with images from the church's Igniting Ministry media campaign, on the billboard beginning Nov. 15. Those plans to place the $30,000 ad on the giant, 11-screen electronic display were changed after Reuters, which shares the host building with Instinet, said the advertising violated company policy.

Controversy erupted once Reuters' policy against advertising that is predominantly religious or political was widely publicized. United Methodists expressed concern about not being given the same access and equitable treatment as a company that serves alcohol or other products.

United Methodist Communications and the Commission on Communication of the National Council of Churches issued statements supporting the right of religious organizations to speak in the public marketplace. The NCC called upon communications corporations with policies that exclude religious voices to re-examine such policies.

Reuters has always tried to maintain independence, integrity and freedom from bias, said Thomas H. Glocer, Reuters' chief executive, in an Oct. 28 letter to United Methodist Communications.

"Historically we have refused to take political or religious advertising in order to avoid any suggestion that we may be endorsing the organization or the view taken," Glocer stated.

"Your proposed advertisement and the evolution of our business has given us cause to reconsider our position," he wrote.

Addressing the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive at United Methodist Communications, Glocer acknowledged that the United Methodist Church should have the same access to speak in the public square as other consumers.

"On reflection, I believe that you are right," Glocer said. "Consumers have become more sophisticated over recent years, and I think there is little likelihood of an advertisement being viewed as the opinion of a news gatherer such as Reuters."

He stated that Reuters would "review the terms of our lease and our advertising policies in order to permit advertisement by religious organization, subject to limitations."

Hollon said the swiftness with which Reuters addressed the situation "reflects well upon the integrity of the company's leaders." He said the action shows that the company was not only open to listening, but would consider a policy change after hearing the concerns.

"They have indicated in a letter to me that Reuters would welcome our campaign and this is very good news for us."

Hollon congratulated Reuters for its willingness to change its policy and said United Methodist Communications "looks forward to the day when the United Methodist Church is present in Times Square on the Reuters electronic bulletin board."

United Methodist Communications, based in Nashville, launched Igniting Ministry in 2001 to raise awareness of the denomination through a series of national cable television commercials. The campaign also includes radio spots and non-broadcast ads, matching grants, training resources and a Web presence. The church's top legislative assembly, meeting in 2000, approved funding the initiative with almost $20 million for a four-year period.

The United Methodist Church has 10 million members in the United States, Africa, Asia and Europe.
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*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn. UMNS, the news agency of the United Methodist Church, is a unit of United Methodist Communications.

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