TV Stations’ Refusals to Show Syphilis PSA Example of How FCC’s Policies Might Be ‘Threatening’ Public Health, Editorial Says
Five Los Angeles television stations' refusals to show an anti-syphilis public service advertisement seems to be "another example of the self-censorship that broadcasters are imposing as the Federal Communications Commission cracks down on material it deems objectionable," a Los Angeles Times editorial says (Los Angeles Times, 12/8). The 30-second PSA, created by the Los Angeles County Department of Health and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, features a raspberry-like red cartoon character called "Phil the Sore," who follows two men as they go home together. As the two men later part, one -- dressed in a bathrobe and underwear -- says, "Let's do it again sometime." Phil the Sore then calls in other characters, who carry boxes labeled "brain damage," "rash" and "blindness," which all are potential results of a syphilis infection (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/3). A spokesperson for Los Angeles-based television station KCBS said that the PSA took an "'inappropriate' lighthearted tone about a 'serious matter,'" according to the editorial. However, studies have shown that PSAs "playfully encouraging people to protect themselves against disease are generally much more effective at changing behavior than stern, moralistic ones," the editorial says. A "more likely" explanation of the refusal by KCBS and other stations was that they did not want to "risk encouraging the wrath of the FCC," according to the editorial. FCC Chair Michael Powell's policies may be "threatening" public health and public discourse, which "inevitably suffers in a nanny society in which acceptable content is determined by a group convinced that its 'values' are handed down from on high," the editorial concludes (Los Angeles Times, 12/8).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.