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Group sues over anti-war billboard

From George Lerner

New York
George W. Bush
September 11 attacks
Clear Channel Communications Incorporated

(CNN) -- A liberal organization filed a federal suit Monday against Clear Channel Communications alleging breach of contract for its rejection of a billboard that would have placed an anti-war message in Times Square.

Project Billboard -- a non-profit advocacy group formed last year -- said that Clear Channel had turned down the ad for political reasons that stretched beyond the reasons allowed in its contract.

The organization had sought to post a 40-foot billboard with the text: "Democracy is best taught by example, not by war," along with a cartoon image of a bomb colored in red, white and blue.

"Our contract called for them to refuse anything that was illegal or that they deemed was morally offensive to the standards of the community," said Project Billboard official Deborah Rappaport.

"We happen to think that this is not morally offensive to the standards of the community."

The group states on its Web site that its goal is get people to discuss what it calls critical issues: the economy, environment, education, health care, national security, and U.S. military power.

Project Billboard said it had agreed to pay Clear Channel $368,000 for the billboard's three month run on the side of the Marriott Marquis hotel in Manhattan's Times Square.

The ad's run was scheduled to begin on August 2, a few weeks before Republicans gather in New York to nominate President Bush for a second term in office.

"I'm not going to say that it's not an eye-catching and perhaps controversial image, but I don't find it offensive," Rappaport said

Clear Channel denied any political agenda in rejecting the ad. Paul Meyer, who runs the company's outdoor billboard division, said the image of a bomb was considered offensive in a city that had been a target of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

"Our local manager made the decision that displaying bomb imagery in New York City in the current environment is inappropriate," Meyer said.

"We have absolutely no problem with the content of the message. Only the bomb imagery." Meyer said he had not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit, but was not concerned about it.

Looming over Times Square today in the space rented by Project Billboard is an advertisement for the current movie "The Day After Tomorrow" that shows the Statue of Liberty encased in ice after the city is hit by a climatic catastrophe.

In its complaint, Project Billboard said that Clear Channel said it is "restricted from posting advertising of a political nature on Marriott Marquis sites."

Meyer said that the Marriott Marquis, which owned the billboard space, had an absolute right to reject advertising copy.

A Marriott Marquis spokeswoman said the hotel had found the bomb image inappropriate. She said the Marriott Marquis had understood the ad would encourage people to vote.

Rappaport said the organization had submitted a second version of the ad with an image of a dove replacing the bomb, and no change to the text. She said that Clear Channel had not yet responded to the amended ad.

Meyer said his company would have no problem with the ad as long as the dove image replaced the bomb.

The Marriott spokeswoman said that the hotel company had not had a chance to determine whether the replacement would be accepted.

Clear Channel has faced previous criticism for perceptions that its top executives are close to the Republican Party.

Radio host Howard Stern lashed out at Clear Channel last month and accused the company of taking him off the air because he had spoken out against President Bush, not because, as the company said, it deemed certain Stern comments indecent.

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