What distinguishes public broadcasting from its commercial competitors is its lack of advertising. Not only do commercials interrupt broadcasting, they reduce the amount of time dedicated to news and programming. Influence real or implied by for profit entities paying the bills at commercial station are also assuaged.
The downside to the lack of actual commercials and their revenue has led to some other issues. Obviously there are the dreaded pledge breaks. But also there are light versions of ads, and corporate benefactors. At least for major US broadcasters like NPR, PRI, PBS. The BBC has been under increasing pressure to allow advertising as well.
However the difference between commercial for profit news and is hard to miss. Turn on any for profit radio station and the ads seem to last as long as the news. The line between editorial and commercial is blurred to the point of questioning their news itself at times. It’s especially disconcerting to hear the host cross the editorial advertising line in the same breath.
I’ve heard plenty of complaints about the ad-like “brought to you by….” notices at the end of popular shows like PBS’s The News Hour. But one form of advertising that seems to have snuck its way into public broadcasting is tech firms.
You might not have even noticed it, but think about it…. how often do you hear these sorts of lines:
- ….(our guest) joins us via Skype?
- ….(politician or celebrity) Tweeted …?
- ….(so and so) announced on Instagram …?
- ….(so and so) announced on their Facebook page…?
- Or using “googling” as a verb?
In general, I can’t figure out why public broadcasting should be giving away free advertising to multiple billion dollar tech companies. There are exceptions, like when the company really is part of the story. But generally Skype could be replaced with VOIP or Internet call. Announcing something on Twitter, Instagram or any other service could simply be announced on the Internet.
Go back a couple of decades to NPR’s Talk of the Nation and John Hockenberry wouldn’t have said we have a call from an AT&T caller up next. It would have seemed rather akweird if he got a message overnighted to him by FedEx. And I simply can’t imagine that KQED’s Forum host Kevin Pursglove would have read a fax starting with and over our Panasonic brand fax machine. Or what if Terry Gross mentioned looking up a number in the Pacific Bell Yellow Pages?!
Of course there are times when the brands do end up making part of the news. And it only seems reasonable that as journalists, that there be a trail to where the person in the news made their comment. Unfortunately however corporate branding has managed to insert a Trojan horse into what are otherwise well-respected institutions.