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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Is There Free Speech For Advertising?



Buzz Feed announced it is canceling a recently signed advertising deal with the Republican National Committee.  Buzz Feed said it won’t run ads touting Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, because it finds him bad for people’s health, just as it bans cigarette ads for the same reason.

I want to applaud them for taking a stand and pointing out the hate, racism, sexism, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant venom spewed by Trump should not be given a bigger platform than he already has.  The site was willing to pass up big money in order to remain ideological and pure.

On the other hand, I think this is a tremendous disservice for media companies and free speech.

Sure Trump poses a real threat to our nation, and the hope is that enough sane people will vote in November to defeat not only him, but his agenda.  But should a media outlet get involved in politics by refusing to run ads from those it disagrees with?

Theoretically, and journalism ethics to be invoked here, a media outlet must provide fair coverage in its reporting of content.  No one is saying otherwise.  But if the advertising opportunities aren’t provided to all viewpoints, especially those of a major political party, is that almost as bad as editorializing and slanting one’s media coverage?  Ad suppression shouldn’t be tolerated, should it?

If Buzz Feed says they like the taste of Marlboro cigarettes, so they’ll ban ads of all competitors - that would seem wrong.  If they say, as an industry, they won’t run ads for any cigarettes that would seem more balanced, though it still calls into question if we should encourage media companies to pick and choose which industries it will accept ads from.

But Buzz Feed isn’t saying it’ll ban all political ads – just those involving Trump. This doesn’t seem fair, not that Trump is much of an innocent victim.  I’m more concerned about the precedent it sets.

Buzz Feed gets 200 million monthly unique visitors.  It’s a global network for news and entertainment that, according to its site, “creates and distributes content for a global audience.” They may not be The New York Times, but they report and aggregate the news.  They make up the new media ecosystem that includes traditional print – TV – radio, websites like Huffington Post, and social media, from FB and You Tube to Twitter and Instagram.  The editorial content at all news outlets must be produced without bias, with respect for the law, and common decency.  Advertising standards at these outlets may allow for a different kind of discretion to be used, but I think the more open the outlets are to accepting ads from any and all, the freer our society truly will be.  Editors don’t need to slant editorial coverage or ban specific ads.  But we need to do a better job of training and informing citizens and media consumers of how to uncover truth, and how to take responsible action based on such truth.  In other words, Trump can advertise all he wants.  But you and I should know he’s a loser.

That’s a real democracy – freedom to speak, an obligation to support free speech, and the education of all to filter out truth from lies, good ideas from bad, right from wrong.  Buzz Feed’s ban won’t make Trump go away or be any lesser of a threat – but it has diluted its image as a news outlet.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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