As Congress Holds Hearings, ACLU Asks White House to Release Guidelines For Drug Propaganda Scheme

February 9, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Saying that there are still many unanswered questions about how the federal government is managing its ongoing scheme to sway the content of popular television sit-coms and dramas, the American Civil Liberties Union today said that the White House should immediately release the guidelines it uses in determining whether a program receives lucrative advertising credits.

“We continue to believe that the government acted unconstitutionally when it sought to alter the content of television programming,” said Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “But legal issues aside, we also believe that the government and the networks have combined to violate the public’s trust by engaging in an unethical propaganda campaign.”

The ACLU’s request for the White House guidelines came as a second congressional panel convened today to consider the White House scheme, which was revealed by the online magazine Salon.com last month. The ACLU welcomed the congressional examination of the program, which, it said, raises deep constitutional concerns.

“The public has a right to see the White House guidelines that control what can or cannot be said to get advertising credits,” said Graham Boyd, Counsel for the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project. “We are very eager to see just what exactly the White House guidelines say about which programs receive cash and which do not.”

According to media reports and prior congressional testimony, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has required networks and other media outlets to offer lucrative advertising time to the government at half-price and then waived that requirement if the networks submitted scripts for government review.

At a hearing about the White House scheme last week, several senators said they were concerned about the program, which was slipped into a huge appropriations bill in 1997 and had largely operated without congressional review or public attention.

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