Media and corporate censorship
Almost all mass media are advertising media and many of them are exclusively advertising media and, with the exception of public service broadcasting are privately owned. Their income is predominantly generated through advertising; in the case of newspapers and magazines from 50 to 80%. Public service broadcasting in some countries can also heavily depend on advertising as a source of income (up to 40%).In the view of critics no media that spreads advertisements can be independent and the higher the proportion of advertising, the higher the dependency. This dependency has “distinct implications for the nature of media content…. In the business press, the media are often referred to in exactly the way they present themselves in their candid moments: as a branch of the advertising industry.”
In addition, the private media are increasingly subject to mergers and concentration with property situations often becoming entangled and opaque. This development, which Henry A. Giroux calls an “ongoing threat to democratic culture”, by itself should suffice to sound all alarms in a democracy. Five or six advertising agencies dominate this 400 billion U.S. dollar global industry.
“Journalists have long faced pressure to shape stories to suit advertisers and owners …. the vast majority of TV station executives found their news departments ‘cooperative’ in shaping the news to assist in ‘non-traditional revenue development.” Negative and undesired reporting can be prevented or influenced when advertisers threaten to cancel orders or simply when there is a danger of such a cancellation. Media dependency and such a threat become very real when there is only one dominant or very few large advertisers. The influence of advertisers is not only in regard to news or information on their own products or services but expands to articles or shows not directly linked to them. In order to secure their advertising revenues the media have to create the best possible ‘advertising environment’. Another problem considered censorship by critics is the refusal of media to accept advertisements that are not in their interest. A striking example of this is the refusal of TV stations to broadcast ads by Adbusters. Groups try to place advertisements and are refused by networks.
It is principally the viewing rates which decide upon the programme in the private radio and television business. “Their business is to absorb as much attention as possible. The viewing rate measures the attention the media trades for the information offered. The service of this attraction is sold to the advertising business” and the viewing rates determine the price that can be demanded for advertising.
“Advertising companies determining the contents of shows has been part of daily life in the USA since 1933. Procter & Gamble (P&G) …. offered a radio station a history-making trade (today known as “bartering”): the company would produce an own show for “free” and save the radio station the high expenses for producing contents. Therefore the company would want its commercials spread and, of course, its products placed in the show. Thus, the series ‘Ma Perkins’ was created, which P&G skilfully used to promote Oxydol, the leading detergent brand in those years and the Soap opera was born …”
While critics basically worry about the subtle influence of the economy on the media, there are also examples of blunt exertion of influence. The US company Chrysler, before it merged with Daimler Benz had its agency (PentaCom) send out a letter to numerous magazines, demanding that they send an overview of all the topics before the next issue was published, to “avoid potential conflict”. Chrysler most of all wanted to know if there would be articles with “sexual, political or social” content, or which could be seen as “provocative or offensive”. PentaCom executive David Martin said: “Our reasoning is, that anyone looking at a 22.000 $ product would want it surrounded by positive things. There is nothing positive about an article on child pornography.” In another example, the USA Network held top-level‚ off-the-record meetings with advertisers in 2000 to let them tell the network what type of programming content they wanted in order for USA to get their advertising.” Television shows are created to accommodate the needs of advertising, e.g. splitting them up in suitable sections. Their dramaturgy is typically designed to end in suspense or leave an unanswered question in order to keep the viewer attached.
The movie system, at one time outside the direct influence of the broader marketing system, is now fully integrated into it through the strategies of licensing, tie-ins and product placements. The prime function of many Hollywood films today is to aid in the selling of the immense collection of commodities. The press called the 2002 Bond film ‘Die Another Day’ featuring 24 major promotional partners an ‘ad-venture’ and noted that James Bond “now has been ‘licensed to sell’” As it has become standard practice to place products in motion pictures, it “has self-evident implications for what types of films will attract product placements and what types of films will therefore be more likely to get made”.
Advertising and information are increasingly hard to distinguish from each other. “The borders between advertising and media …. become more and more blurred…. What August Fischer, chairman of the board of Axel Springer publishing company considers to be a ‘proven partnership between the media and advertising business’ critics regard as nothing but the infiltration of journalistic duties and freedoms”. According to RTL Group former executive Helmut Thoma “private stations shall not and cannot serve any mission but only the goal of the company which is the ‘acceptance by the advertising business and the viewer’. The setting of priorities in this order actually says everything about the ‘design of the programmes’ by private television.” Patrick Le Lay, former managing director of TF1, a private French television channel with a market share of 25 to 35%, said: "There are many ways to talk about television. But from the business point of view, let’s be realistic: basically, the job of TF1 is, e. g. to help Coca Cola sell its product. (…) For an advertising message to be perceived the brain of the viewer must be at our disposal. The job of our programmes is to make it available, that is to say, to distract it, to relax it and get it ready between two messages. It is disposable human brain time that we sell to Coca Cola”.
Because of these dependencies, a widespread and fundamental public debate about advertising and its influence on information and freedom of speech is difficult to obtain, at least through the usual media channels: it would saw off the branch it was sitting on. “The notion that the commercial basis of media, journalism, and communication could have troubling implications for democracy is excluded from the range of legitimate debate” just as “capitalism is off-limits as a topic of legitimate debate in US political culture”.
An early critic of the structural basis of US journalism was Upton Sinclair with his novel The Brass Check in which he stresses the influence of owners, advertisers, public relations, and economic interests on the media. In his book “Our Master's Voice – Advertising” the social ecologist James Rorty (1890–1973) wrote: "The gargoyle’s mouth is a loudspeaker, powered by the vested interest of a two-billion dollar industry, and back of that the vested interests of business as a whole, of industry, of finance. It is never silent, it drowns out all other voices, and it suffers no rebuke, for it is not the voice of America? That is its claim and to some extent it is a just claim...”
It has taught us how to live, what to be afraid of, what to be proud of, how to be beautiful, how to be loved, how to be envied, how to be successful.. Is it any wonder that the American population tends increasingly to speak, think, feel in terms of this jabberwocky? That the stimuli of art, science, religion are progressively expelled to the periphery of American life to become marginal values, cultivated by marginal people on marginal time?"