Media is a tough business. Every day starts from scratch and, in the broadcast media every second of the day has to be filled with content. Consumers are fickle – if they don’t like what they hear or see they’ll flip channels and once gone, there is no guarantee they’ll come back.
That translates into a simple maxim: don’t abuse your customer. For mass media that means somewhat bland offerings that will appeal to large audiences. To be sure, the broadcast media don’t always get it right – shows get cancelled, or moved around all the time. The principle remains the same: the media doesn’t go out of its way to annoy or antagonise its audience.
That brings me to the Get Up advert that is causing so much fuss.
This is not a free speech issue at all. The government hasn’t prohibited the advert, it is freely available for viewing, it has been shown on the government’s wholly-owned media organisation, nobody will be arrested or fined for viewing it, or for being in possession of the advert. All that has happened is that private broadcasters don’t want to run the advert.
There is an academic analogy: if a particular journal refused to publish an article or a publisher refused to publish a book we wouldn’t claim censorship. So it is with the Get Up advert.
The commercial broadcast media doesn’t want to be associated with the advert.
I’m not surprised. The advert is very “clever” in an undergraduate sort of way. No doubt they had great fun in devising the idea: let’s have someone wrap dog poo in the newspaper and then tell the audience that Australians can vote for whomever they like. Let’s add in some anti-foreign bigotry while we’re at it. Yeah, that’ll be fun.
Get Up are to be commended that they’re spending their own money (actually their donors’ money) for that sort of thing – but I don’t believe that anyone else should be under some sort of duty to actually air the advert. The broadcast media doesn’t have to expose its audiences to advertising it thinks will annoy its target markets.
Sinclair Davidson is a professor of Institutional Economics at RMIT University.
This article first appeared at The Conversation.