Fri, Dec 31, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Propaganda or self-promotion?

The government is making rampant use of embedded marketing, which includes advertorials, to promote the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). This is the main reason that veteran China Times reporter Huang Je-bing (黃哲斌) resigned in protest on Dec. 12, comparing the practice with propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party. Seasoned journalists and professors of communications have come out in droves against the practice, with more than 100 signing a petition calling on the government to stop the practice.

Some may ask what all the hubbub is about. Don’t all governments seek to promote themselves? That’s just a feature of party politics, right?

Embedded marketing involves advertisements that don’t stand out from other content in print or broadcast media. An ad for a leading corporation or political party can be made to look just like a news story, masquerading as the truth, even though a significant amount of money changed hands for it to be placed.

Just about every major news outlet in the world quietly employs teams of sharp, be-suited salespeople, working for independent companies, who spearhead the drive to get the CEOs of the world’s largest corporations and leaders of the world’s richest political parties to hand over oodles of cash for embedded marketing. This includes quality papers that print full-page stories — with an advertisement logo nowhere in sight or surreptitiously hidden away — about the benefits of doing business in a tiny -despot-led country where the rule of law can be bent at the will of a dictator.

The rampant use of embedded marketing in Taiwan has painfully obvious negative connotations for the role of news media here, and therefore the ability of that industry to prop up the country’s democracy.

So what is the government doing? Simple: blaming the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), apologizing and admitting how big the problem is, forcing a TV station off the air for broadcasting advertorials, but ultimately doing nothing to stop their use.

For senior officials of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration, when in doubt, blame the DPP. That’s exactly what Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) did on Tuesday when under fire for government use of product placements. Wu started by saying that advertorials were first used by the DPP 10 years ago, but failed to add that their use has skyrocketed since Ma came to power. Wu then apologized, admitting that the Ma administration has failed to address the issue properly, ostensibly showing the government’s sincerity — this was a political necessity given public anger. Then, right away, the government forced ERA TV’s variety channel off the air for violating rules related to embedded marketing, showing how serious the government is about stopping this practice. But why ban only one station when many are doing it? And why not push through regulations defining the use of embedded marketing rather than only relying on TV broadcasters to exercise self-discipline?

The answer is that embedded marketing is an effective tool in the political as well as corporate sphere. Neither the big corporate players nor politicians that are in power want this tool to be taken out of their hands. They had to look as if they were doing something, because it has come to public attention that this form of marketing is “dishonest,” as Wu put it. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) went even further, saying he did not expect the legislature to pass regulations governing embedded marketing anytime soon.

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