MTV has refused to run an anti-war commercial, heightening the controversy surrounding US broadcasters’ treatment of advocacy ads.

The music network, owned by media giant Viacom, rejected an ad from Not in Our Name, a group campaigning against war in Iraq. The commercial in question featured young people speaking about their opposition to conflict as well as footage from the recent anti-war demonstrations around the world.

MTV defended its decision by saying it rejects all such ads. “The decision was made years ago that we don't accept advocacy advertising because it really opens us up to accepting every point of view on every subject,” the network declared.

It is not alone in imposing a blanket ban on advocacy commercials. Similar policies are operated by the four big broadcast networks – CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox – and other cable channels such as CNN.

Pro-war ads have suffered too, with a Bush-backing commercial from the Citizens United Foundation refused airtime by an NBC affiliate.

Such policies have prompted cynical observers to note that media owners – normally the first to cite the First Amendment whenever the government suggests restrictions on advertising or marketing – seem much less committed to free speech when the issue is not in their direct interests.

Blasted CUF president David N Bossie: “They should reserve their right to reject things, but they should not reject everything, just to protect themselves from having to make hard decisions.”

However, there are ways round such bans. Not in Our Name defied MTV’s opposition by buying time during its shows on local cable operators.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff