Commercial Content and its Relationship to Media Content: Commodification and Trust
University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law
March 17, 2013
Routledge Handbook of Media Law, Monroe E Price, Stefaan G Verhulst & Libby Morgan, eds, Routledge, 2013, 87-104
In a 2010 lecture, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the well-known British newspaper, The Guardian reminded the audience of the importance of subsidies in media. He was not referring only to public funding for public broadcasters such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), but to advertising. Advertising is at the heart of media, and media occupy a commodified space. Yet despite the intimacy of this connection, the relationship is not without constraints. Commercial interests have not been allowed unrestrained access to these communication channels.
Although there are major differences in policy and regulatory attitudes to commercial communications, both the US and the UK have required commercial communications to be transparent. The US has maintained a consistent policy and regulatory approach towards the use of paid-for content. The UK, however, has recently undergone a significant policy and regulatory change and permitted some forms of product placement, although it has retained the principle of editorial independence. The introduction of product placement in the UK provides an opportunity to re-examine the relationship between commercial interests and the media. Are the protections which have been put in place sufficient to alleviate disquiet, or do practices such as product placement put at risk at some fundamental level — and in a way that cannot be fully ameliorated by regulatory design — the public’s ability to access trusted content? To consider these questions the chapter follows two paths. First, it reviews in more detail the two principles that may be seen as protections to mitigate the impact of commercial interests: the transparency principle and the independence principle. It does this by examining how they are reflected in regulatory design, using the US and the UK as illustrations. Secondly, it considers the place of commercial interests and the disquiet around such interests by posing three lines of inquiry. The first considers whether there is an inherent limitation in the rules that weaken their effectiveness in constraining the influence of commercial content. The second inquiry reviews the disquiet by considering the principle of access. The final line of inquiry examines the problem using Sandel’s argument from corruption, which suggests that the value of certain goods are diminished or corrupted by the market. The chapter asks whether media content is such a good.
Keywords: media, media law, television, advertising, sponsorship, United Kingdom, United States
JEL Classification: K23
Date posted: March 19, 2013