NYC Subway Begins Including Disclaimers on Ads with “Political, Religious, or Moral Content”

By: Brian Mangan

I was in the subway at the Steinway Street M/R station, on Christmas Eve of all days, when I spotted the following advertisement:

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I don’t speak Spanish so at first I was a little surprised to see the disclaimer at the bottom (which reads: “This is a paid advertisement sponsored by the DeSales Media Group.  The display of this advertisement does not imply MTA’s endorsement of any views expressed”).  Surprisingly, a moment looking at the ad with my terrible, high-school-level Spanish skills actually yielded results – as it appeared to be an advertisement for a new Spanish-language Catholic television channel.

I did a little investigation and it turns out that it is indeed:

NET is a branch of DeSales Media Group, the official media outreach of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Tu Fe Al Día is our latest outreach to Brooklyn’s growing Hispanic community and the life of the universal Church. Tu Fe Al Día is especially timely after the election of His Holiness Francisco, the first papa hailing from Latin America. Therefore, Tu Fe Al Día will show the beauty of Hispanic culture by highlighting the impact of Hispanics on their neighborhoods from family life to religious vocations to education, health, business, the arts – and much more.

Still, though, the disclaimer seemed strange to me, because I could not recall ever seeing one in person before.

The only time I could recall even hearing about a disclaimer was over a year ago after a Judge ruled that the MTA could not decline to put up an extremely offensive ad.  Remember this ad about Israel and Jihad?

Observer (and several other outlets) reported at the time that the Court said that any effort by the MTA to amend its guidelines so that it could refuse “demeaning” ads would be deemed unconstitutional.  In response to the Court’s decision, the MTA promulgated new rules:

NY1 reports that a disclaimer will also be required on all ads with political, religious, or moral content to make it clear that the MTA doesn’t necessarily agree with whatever potentially offensive messages groups want to post in the subway.

I didn’t realize that the new rule was so broad, so it’s still a little surprising to see it on such an innocuous advertisement like the one above (not to mention the ad is in Spanish but the disclaimer is in English … seems like someone missed a memo there).  (CBS’s take on the same story).

Obviously, we live in a litigious society and large organizations will rightly prefer to err on the side of caution.  But if the above is true, that ALL ads with “political, religious, or moral content” will require disclaimers, then prepare to see a LOT of disclaimers in the subway.  What I would like to know is, who makes the decision about whether an advertisement has “moral content”?  Or “political content”?  What’s next? Disclaimers for the Rockefeller Center Christmas Spectacular?  The St. Patrick’s Day Parade?  Every advertisement for a local or regional political office?  A kids movie that has a moral theme?

I wouldn’t want a disclaimer on an advertisement for any legitimate religious channel, or service, or otherwise.  Do we not have the sense as a people to distinguish between an advertisement for a totally legitimate television channel (be it Catholic, Muslim, or anything else) and an advertisement which calls another group “savages”?  I guess we will find out.

What do you guys think about the disclaimers?  Let us know in the comments below.

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Brian Mangan wonders if an entity paying for an advertisement with a disclaimer pays the same price or not.  It’s probably not fair if they do since they get so much less advertising space. 

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