More than a half-dozen television networks, newspaper industry associations and advocacy groups have asked a federal judge in Washington to expand the media outlets on which tobacco companies are required to publish antismoking messages.
Under a settlement with the federal government, Philip Morris USA Inc., Altria Group Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. agreed to pay for messages on television, online, in newspapers and on cigarette packages detailing the health risks of smoking.
On Jan. 10, lawyers for the government and the tobacco companies asked the judge to approve their plan for carrying out the terms of the settlement, which included requiring the companies to buy time on their choice of the “three major television networks—CBS, ABC or NBC” and space in several dozen newspapers across the United States.
Reaction from excluded media outlets was swift. On Jan. 17, the National Newspaper Publishers Association and National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters were the first to intervene and ask U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to include their members in the order.
In the weeks that followed, Fox Broadcasting Co., the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Viacom Inc. and A&E Television Networks LLC filed similar requests with the court. This week, Univision Communications Inc. and Radio One Inc. filed briefs.
Most of the media outlets seeking inclusion argue they would better reach certain key demographics long targeted by the tobacco companies, such as young people, African-Americans and Hispanic Americans.
“Television media also has changed dramatically in the forty-three years since Defendants broadcast their deceptive messages on television,” Christopher Mead of London & Mead of Washington, a lawyer for A&E, wrote in a Feb. 6 filing. “The Proposed Consent Order does not reflect those changes.”
The National Newspaper Publishers Association, represented by Washington’s Leftwich & Ludaway, pointed out in its court filings that some of the newspapers included on the original list no longer exist.
Fox, represented by Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth in Arlington, Va., argued it deserved a place alongside CBS, ABC and NBC on the list of “major television networks.”
In court papers, lawyers for the tobacco companies said media outlets hadn’t filed objections in the seven years since Kessler entered the original judgment in 2006 listing the networks and newspapers that would carry the ads.
“The agreement was the product of many months of negotiation and should be viewed as an integrated whole. Each term was bartered in exchange for other terms, and no one term can be changed without the agreement itself unraveling,” lawyers for the tobacco companies said in a Jan. 27 filing.
Still, they said the companies were willing to discuss whether they could “accommodate the concerns of the amici within the framework of the existing agreement.”