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Famous Players drops same-sex advertisements

As of this weekend, Famous Players, Canada's largest movie chain, will no longer run any "issue-driven advertising" in its 79 theatres after pre-film ads it's been carrying in support of same-sex marriage prompted a boycott of its theatres by opposing groups.

"We were starting to get e-mails that were threatening to our staff," Nuria Bronfman, the Toronto-based vice-president of corporate affairs for Famous Players, said yesterday.

The man who placed the ad, another Famous Players executive, said yesterday he'd received death threats.

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Also, "the phone calls were starting to get abusive," explained Ms. Bronfman, "so we thought it's not fair for our staff to have to go through that sort of thing."

However, one of the groups opposed to the ads, the Calgary-based Canadian Family Action Coalition, thinks that even with the new policy, the boycott should continue at least until Famous Players agrees to run an anti-same-sex marriage ad "similar to what they ran for the other side."

Famous Players has been showing two 15-second slide ads, sponsored by Canadians for Equal Marriage, in its theatres since late January. They came to the end of their natural cycle yesterday, Ms. Bronfman said, and won't be shown again.

She said that Salah Bachir, president of Famous Players Media, a division of Famous Players Inc., paid as an individual for the slides, which cost close to $15,000.

One slide said: " 'I do' means the same thing, whether you're straight or gay. Let your MP know you support our Charter of Rights and Freedoms." The other: "Marriage is a fundamental human right, whether you're straight or gay . . ."

Ms. Bronfman said it would be erroneous to say the slides are being pulled because of the boycott or of the opposition. The ads "aren't offensive or obscene, and it is legal to advertise in this country."

At the same time, "we've definitely had some learnings from this situation and others," she said, noting that patrons have also complained about pre-film anti-smoking messages and ads for furriers. "We've definitely learned that people have definite opinions about their movie-going experience and what they want and don't want and we've heard it loud and clear."

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As a result, pre-film advertising "will focus on consumer products and services and stay out of issue-driven advertising altogether," whether it's a paid pitch or a public service announcement, she said.

However, Brian Rushfeldt, executive director for the Family Action Coalition, said he isn't satisfied. "As a matter of fact, this whole scam they're pulling is ludicrous. They run the ads they want until it's passed its buy cycle, then they run out and change their policy. It's an intentional ploy on their part."

He said Famous Players should have dropped the ads when people first started to complain or given the other side equal time.

Ms. Bronfman said initially some of these organizations thought the pre-film slides were free public service notices and "they were asking for free airtime in return. When we told them this wasn't the case, they said they'd consider buying an ad -- but no one pulled out a chequebook."

While there were indications in the past seven days that an anti-same-sex marriage group might buy an ad, "by then we'd already decided to streamline our policy."

Asked if the new policy prevents employees or management of Famous Players companies from advertising in the theatres as individuals, Mr. Bronfman replied: "It's kind of a grey area. There's just so many fine lines. We haven't put that down in stone."

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Contacted in New York yesterday, Mr. Bachir was unrepentant. "It's a straight issue of equality and minority rights. . . . I would have not done a single thing differently. I've done a lot like that before and I'll do more. That kind of reaction the ad got only serves to strengthen me further. In fact, I sent a cheque yesterday to Egale [a national organization supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-identified people]" he declared, adding that the fuss marks the start of his campaign to become Canada's vice-regal representative.

"It's about time we had a gay Arab Governor-General," he said, laughing.

Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League and one of the original supporters of the boycott, said yesterday her organization "is glad that the offending ad has been removed" and indicated the boycott could be lifted.

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