NEW YORK – On Oct. 28, after weeks of consideration, the Reuters news agency changed its course and decided to allow the United Methodist Church to display their advertisement on its Times Square headquarters building.
The initial contract, made in September, called for a display of a series of Thanksgiving season messages, entitled, “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” Despite the $30,000 contract signed thereof, Reuters revoked the deal on grounds that it violated company rules designed to "preserve its independence, integrity and freedom from bias."
The policy, dating back to the 1940s, prohibited messages with religious or political content from being displayed through Reuters advertisements.
However, Hollon and the other members of the communication commission of the National Council of Churches questioned the policy, asking whether religious organizations were being denied equal opportunity because of the policy.
"We asked for fairness and to be given the same opportunity to speak in the commercial marketplace," said Hollon. "This decision reflects fair consideration of our concern."
Hollon continued, "They took us seriously and have responded in a reasonable and balanced manner."
Following the subsequent tête-à-têtes with the UMC members, Thomas H. Glocer, chief executive of Reuters, canceled the initial decision to revoke the deal, and wrote a formal letter of apology to the organization.
The following is the complete text of the letter.
Dear Reverend Hollon,
I have just returned from a week's travel to learn of the controversy regarding the United Methodist Church's proposed advertising on the electronic billboard at Reuters American headquarters at 3 Times Square.
As you know, Reuters building lease currently prohibits advertising of a predominantly religious or political character. The Reuters Trust principles require us to maintain Reuters independence, integrity and freedom from bias. Historically we have refused to take political or religious advertising in order to avoid any suggestion that we may be endorsing the organization or the view taken.
Your proposed advertisement and the evolution of our business has given us cause to reconsider our position. In the last two years, our media platforms have grown to offer millions of consumers an independent environment to consume insightful and timely news and information that is free from bias. As well as electronic billboards, Reuters carries advertising on its internet websites www.reuters.com and print publications.
You state on your website that your church should be given the same access and opportunity to speak in the commercial marketplace as corporate advertisers. On reflection, I believe that you are right. Consumers have become more sophisticated over recent years, and I think there is little likelihood of an advertisement being viewed as the opinion of a news gatherer such as Reuters.
Provided it is made clear that the material in question is paid advertising and that there is no possibility of confusion with our news output, I believe you should have the same access to commercial space as any other organization.
Accordingly, I am asking my colleagues (led by Chris Ahearn, President - Media) to review the terms of our lease and our advertising policies in order to permit advertisement by religious organizations, subject to certain limitations. For example, we would not permit advertising that maligned another religion. Since your proposed advertisement, as described to me, would not raise such concerns, we would welcome your campaign.
I apologize for the apparent indecisiveness over your planned campaign. You have given us cause to review our thinking, and for that I am grateful.
Thomas H. Glocer