Hulu is refusing to run Democrats' midterm campaign ads on topics like guns and abortion, per a Monday report by The Washington Post. Democrats are calling Hulu's decision "censorship of the truth." Not really; it's just a decision by a private company not to interrupt its users' chill weeknight TV time with footage of the January 6 riots.
On July 15, Democratic campaign groups tried to buy spots for gun- and abortion-related ads on YouTube, Facebook, Roku, and traditional cable TV. They successfully placed those ads. But the spots they tried to buy on Hulu, which is owned by Disney, ended up never being aired, due to the company's longstanding policy against ads deemed too controversial.
According to the Post, a Hulu representative told Suraj Patel, a Democratic congressional candidate running to represent New York, that "there was an 'unwritten Hulu policy' that deemed the topics in one of his ads too 'sensitive' for the platform. The ad in question mentioned Republican successes around abortion, climate change and gun violence, while also showing footage of the violence from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol." After Patel complained, and the Post's article came out, Hulu reversed course and accepted the original ads. Other ads on similar themes, like those by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Democratic Governors Association, remain held up in talks with Hulu reps.
"Hulu's censorship of the truth is outrageous, offensive, and another step down a dangerous path for our country," said the three aforementioned Democratic organizations in a statement. "Voters have the right to know the facts about MAGA Republicans' agenda on issues like abortion—and Hulu is doing a huge disservice to the American people by blocking voters from learning the truth about the GOP record or denying these issues from even being discussed."
But Hulu isn't censoring the truth so much as making a business decision—one they've pretty consistently applied—not to air ads that will piss off a significant chunk of their viewership. To act like a campaign ad represents "the truth" or "the facts" about the other side is absurd, something only the most intransigent partisans could say with a straight face. To call this type of thing "censorship" when it happens to your side, but "just private companies doing business as they please" when it comes for your opponents, is tempting for hacks on both sides but terribly wrong. Private companies ought to make the business decisions they deem best, ideally unmolested by angry politicians convinced they're aggrieved truth-peddlers.
"Disney has told advertisers that political and alcohol ads will not be accepted on Disney Plus, a separate streaming service, when it launches an ad-supported version later this year," adds the Post. It seems Disney, and thus Hulu, might be early in the process of more broadly extricating themselves from the tedious realm we've entered into, where companies feel comfortable taking sides on matters of petty partisan squabbling or subjecting their customers to the beliefs of their employees and executives. It's perfectly fine for Disney and Hulu to want to opt out—and Disney is perhaps especially interested in doing so after CEO Bob Chapek criticized a Florida law prohibiting classroom talk of gender identity/sexual orientation–related topics and received nasty political retribution from that state's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who started trying to revoke Disney's special improvement district status.
If Hulu were a regular old broadcast TV network, it would be forced by the Communications Act of 1934 to allow both sides to air political ads. It's both a modern-day marvel and a blessing that streaming services aren't bound by archaic laws like that one, so we can watch our old Weeds and High Maintenance episodes in peace without being jarringly interrupted by January 6 footage.
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