Wednesday, September 24, 2014

End advertorials on the news

I hate the sharemarket advertorials that TV3 and TVNZ both broadcast, unlabelled, as "news". They’re not news. At best, they're blather that few people listen to; at worst, they're propaganda promoting a very specific political viewpoint. Yesterday TV3 provided an example of the second.

TV3’s advertorial for a bank’s investment service, presented by Alex somebody (the name wasn’t shown onscreen), began with this:
“New Zealand Refinery [sic] confirmed today that next month for two days they’re going to lose half their workforce to a labour strike. It’s going to cost our only oil refinery in New Zealand 8 to 9 million dollars in lost revenue, and not surprisingly, the share price dropped today. We also saw the New Zealand dollar drop…”
The italics in that transcript indicate verbal stress, but it was admittedly not as pronounced as it looks (watch it for yourself online; a commercial precedes the video and the segment begins about 22:30 or so). I include the emphasis because it provides a better idea of what I’m talking about: A one-eyed look at the situation.

The guy provided NO context to the strike, and TV3 never even mentioned it in their real news. A viewer could easily think that it’s just “greedy unions” trying to get more money, the usual prejudice, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, workers are striking over safety issues: New Zealand Refining requires workers to work 12 hour shifts for 14 days in a row without a single day off! The union wants it limited to 7 days in a row—still longer than any worker I know would tolerate—but the refinery won’t budge. Also, the workers are willing to forgo a payrise to get improved conditions. If this context had been provided by TV3, its viewers would have had balanced information about the impending strike.

I’m on the side of the workers—full disclosure and all that—but surely fair and balanced news coverage demands, well, being fair and balanced, doesn’t it? Why is it ever okay to present the viewpoint ONLY of “investors”?

The larger issue here is the moral bankruptcy of the modern corporate paradigm, as I’ve talked about many times on this blog, in which the ONLY thing that matters is profit returned to shareholders; workers, the environment, suppliers, customers are all irrelevant if they reduce that profit. The lack of context or balance in these advertorials presents a totally one-sided view of issues affecting workers as well as businesses and that’s just plain wrong.

These advertorials are so awful that I started turning to TV3 when TVNZ’s investor advertorial comes on their midday news, and plenty of times I forget to switch back. Other times, I’ve simply hit mute.

I’ve only recently switched to 3 News at 6pm, largely because of the low standards for news on TV One generally. So I didn't know that 3 News also had one of these vapid advertorials. Maybe I’ll hit mute or turn the channel on them, too.

I’m well aware that the reason TVNZ and TV3 do this is for the money: The segments are nothing more than commercials masquerading as news and of no value to viewers whatsoever. But when those ads are allowed to promote unchallenged a political view that is contestable, then something is seriously wrong with the practice.

If I had my way, they’d drop the advertorials and have real journalists cover business issues like they used to do. That’s not going to happen, of course, so I’d settle for a prominent “ADVERTORIAL” banner on screen the entire time the segment airs. People have a right to know that they’re being fed marketing and propaganda, not news.

Now, if only we could figure out how to get a “truth in labelling” on the actual news stories they broadcast…

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