Mon, Mar 03, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Ad money threatens press freedom

By Liu Ching-yi 劉靜怡

On the same day that Kevin Lau (劉進圖), former editor of the Ming Pao, was slashed six times in a vicious attack on the streets of Hong Kong, protesters gathered outside the Taipei branch of China Construction Bank (CCB) over worries that the bank could influence freedom of the press in Taiwan by removing its advertisements from local papers, as it has done in Hong Kong when media outlets there write unfavorable things about China.

The two incidents have attracted a lot of attention from local media. However, it is more important to focus on the cross-strait service trade agreement that the legislature is reviewing to ensure that it does not jeopardize freedom of information in the nation.

Advertisements are a major source of income for media outlets and Internet content providers. The service trade agreement entails opening up almost every type of business involved in production and sales operations in the advertising industry, with the exclusion of television and radio advertising. The reason for doing this could very well be that the government wants to create an illusion that the opening will not be very far-reaching. Opening up to advertising agencies means that China will be able to control who gets to run advertisements in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet.

How information provided by Internet platforms and the content and direction of journalism will be affected when advertising agencies control the sourcing of advertising must be discussed.

Other issues that need to be analyzed include the direction the advertising industry is headed and what pressures toward self-censorship will be placed on media outlets and other information providers.

A look at the local advertising market shows that the budget strategies of major international advertisers are controlled from their primary Asian operations centers, which more often than not are in China. So it is inevitable that the these firm’s advertising strategies will be influenced by Beijing to some degree.

When it comes to the budgets for advertisements placed by the Chinese government to meet its propaganda purposes, such as ads for travel and real estate in China, as well as the Chinese government’s use of embedded marketing in the media for a variety of things, specific media outlets are preferred by the Chinese government over others for ideological reasons.

It is not hard to imagine that the current situation — in which the placement of advertisements is a result of manipulation by vested interests instead of market competition — would become worse if the service trade agreement were passed and that the advertising market as a whole would suffer further distortion. Apart from influencing the source of income for media outlets and Internet content providers alongside compromising their professional autonomy, this will also severely damage the public’s right to information.

The government is blind to the fact that in a democratic society, commercial advertising can have indirect yet strong influence on press freedom and freedom of information and it insists that any advertisements aimed at meeting the political goals of the Chinese Communist Party will be prohibited in Taiwan.

The government also chooses to deliberately overlook the ability of large advertising agencies to control things here and in China and the power they have in negotiating advertising prices. As such, those who know how the media operates can easily see that this is an extremely stupid method of political propaganda that treats freedom of information as if it were nothing.

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