Ad Controversy Erupts Around Kids Program on Homosexuality

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - New questions and controversy regarding advertisers are swirling around Nickelodeon's children's program that will focus on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

A conservative family group claims Nickelodeon plans to air the show later this month without commercials out of fear of alienating advertisers. The Six Flags amusement park company, one of the cable channel's sponsors, is refuting those claims.

Amid these claims and counter-claims, the company refuses to retract a statement made by one of its own staff, and the conservative family group refuses to retract its own statements, raising the question of whether semantics and spin trump fact.

The Nick News program geared towards kids between the ages of eight and 13 is tentatively scheduled to broadcast the homosexuality program June 18 at 9:00 p.m. EDT.

Nickelodeon's program, which will include lesbian activist Rosie O'Donnell, will ask children if they think homosexuality is morally wrong and whether they believe laws are needed to protect homosexuals from discrimination.

Whether the program will have any sponsors is another kettle of fish.

He Said She Said They Said

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, claimed Friday the Nickelodeon program will be broadcast commercial-free as a way to keep advertisers from having to pull out from sponsorship of the show.

"We have confirmed that family-friendly advertisers are skittish about being associated with a children's show that promotes homosexuality," Lafferty said in a statement Friday. "Six Flags informed me 'they make it a practice of avoiding controversial programming and that they refrain from sponsoring shows with certain content.'"

Lafferty said her source was April Gonzales, an official with the Six Flags marketing office. But Debbie Nauser, vice-president of public relations for Six Flags, said the company is not considering such a move.

"No, we don't plan to pull our advertising from Nickelodeon. It is a news program," Nauser said. "We are not here to pass judgment, and we wouldn't pull our advertising from any of the networks or cable channels that run news that we don't find a liking to, so this isn't any different."

She said the company told TVC it would be interested in finding out more about the program, but never said the Six Flags ads would be pulled from Nickelodeon. "We have called them (TVC) and told them to cease and desist saying that, and not to send the release out any further than they already have," Nauser said.

Numerous phone calls to Nickelodeon officials to determine the cable channel's programming plans were not returned Friday. Similarly, telephone calls to other Nickelodeon sponsors, including Hershey's and Maui Toys, were not returned.

But the TVC is sticking by its position, even though Lafferty said she spoke Friday with Six Flags Marketing Vice President Hank Salemi and was asked for a retraction of the TVC statement, which Lafferty said will not happen.

However, she acknowledged the different statements by Six Flags officials regarding whether the company would change its advertising plans. "I am reporting to you that (Gonzales) told us that, but Hank Salemi called and said that is not their position."

Nickelodeon has come under fire from the TVC, other pro-family groups and parents because they're concerned the children's show will promote homosexuality.

Many parents have also questioned whether sexuality of any kind is an appropriate subject for a TV program that targets eight-year-old kids.

David Bittler, senior communications director for Nickelodeon, told Wednesday that Nickelodeon stands by its decision to air a show about same-sex parenting and homosexuality.

"The fact of the matter is that kids are not finding out about these things through Nick News," said Bittler. "Nick News realizes through its contacts and through the headlines that these are issues that are around and need to be explained to kids so that kids can have some information and make up their own minds."

Traditional Values Coalition has urged its supporters to sign a petition to voice their disapproval of the program, and more than 112,000 people had signed the petition by Friday afternoon.

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