film & video
This page considers restrictions on advertising, including
who can advertise, what can be advertised and the form
taken by advertisements.
It covers -
One reader of this site expressed surprised about the
conjunction of 'censorship' and 'advertising', assuming
that marketers in liberal democratic societies are free
to advertise anything that can be legally sold.
In reality the promotion of products, services, people,
organisations and causes is bounded by a range of restrictions.
Some of those restrictions involve direct constraints
by a spectrum of government agencies. Others embody codes
of practice and other self-regulation by industry bodies
or self-restraint on the part of individual publishers
and broadcasters, hyped as 'socially responsible broadcasting'.
Some products can be legally sold but cannot be directly
advertised (or advertised using particular media) in some
jurisdictions, for example cigarettes. Television advertising
of some products is restricted at specific times, for
example during 'children viewing' periods in the morning
and afternoon. Some electronic media and publications
have traditionally eschewed ads for certain products (eg
personal hygiene products).
Governments have imposed conditions on the content of
some advertisements (eg required inclusion of health warnings
on tobacco and alcohol and required opt-out facilities
and contact details in email as part of spam
regimes). Some have aspired to 'truth in advertising'
measures, which encourage consumer
protection and also fend off calls for greater direct
regulation. Some have required overtly political
advertisements to feature identifiers. Some have banned
advertising by specific entities, eg gambling businesses
located outside the particular jurisdiction.
Others have grappled - or claimed to grapple - with practices
such as 'product placement' and 'cash for comment', with
regulators on occasion being complicit in egregious failure
by major Australian broadcasters to stamp out covert advertising
through payment to 'golden
Is there censorship of what appears in advertisements
(and requirements for inclusion of particular information)?
As the preceding paragraphs indicate, censorship of content
reflects explicit government requirements (sometimes expressed
in legislation other than that dealing with offensive
content), industry self-regulation and self-denial by
publishers/broadcasters (often on the basis that particular
ads will decrease overall revenue by offending potential
In Australia for example it is possible to identify -
on 'political' advertising, with requirements that ads
funded by parties feature contact details. Governments
in practice blur boundaries through advertising that
is 'educational' rather than political
for inclusion of health warnings on product packaging,
for example alcohol and tobacco
on the basis of 'bad taste' or offensiveness', eg laxatives
and 'marital aids'
for disclaimers on financial services
print' in some print and television advertisement, eg
disclosing the cost of premium
message services such as adult chat lines and astrology
impact of defamation
law and personality rights
constraints against false or misleading representations
under the national Trade Practices Act, state/territory
consumer protection legislation and law dealing with
registration of some
professions and of charities.
Governments may simply ban advertising of specified services
and products (eg alcohol and tobacco ads on Australian
television) or ads on behalf of particular entities. In
2007 for example the UK government banned some 1,000 'off-shore'
gambling sites from
advertising in the UK. That ban applies to gambling companies
operating outside the European Economic Area, affecting
popular sites such as Interpoker.com. They will not be
able to market in the UK. Because most have no presence
in the UK, broadcasters, sites and advertising companies
that create campaigns for such companies will face fines
or imprisonment of executives.
ads on the net
Douglas Rushkoff's Coercion: Why We Listen to What
'They' Say (New York: Putnam 2000), a somewhat ennervated
1990s version of Vance Packard's Hidden Persuaders,
criticises online advertising by saying
in the internet space are an impediment to the functionality
of the internet. A billboard on the highway is not an
impediment to the function of the highway. You don't
have to stop your car ...
that is at cross-purposes with the medium that is housing
it is going to wither. Advertising was an experiment
in monetizing people's internet use. The reason it doesnt
work is because it's like going snorkelling and putting
bumper stickers on your scuba mask and then wondering
why people aren't engaged with those.
Some consumers are uninterested in electronic advertisements
and there is thus a market for software that blocks web
ads (aka web-washing), devices such as the TiVo
that fast forward over television ads, and mechanisms
to exclude spam. Those
filters may be established by the recipient (eg on a particular
desktop) or be established by an intermediary such as
That has led some observers to question the long term
viability of some commercial broadcasting business models.
It has also resulted in rhetoric that ad filtering is
"theft", egregious censorship or an attack on
'American values' and human rights.
One critic thus claimed
that blocks all advertisement is an infringement of
the rights of web site owners and developers. Numerous
web sites exist in order to provide quality content
in exchange for displaying ads. Accessing the content
while blocking the ads, therefore would be no less than
stealing. Millions of hard working people are being
robbed of their time and effort by this type of software.
Many site owners therefore install scripts that prevent
people using ad blocking software from accessing their
site. That is their right as the site owner to insist
that the use of their resources accompanies the presence
of the ads.
marketers have on occasion asserted that ad blocking is
unconstitutional. That assertion has found little support
from courts, legal theorists and consumers, with ISPs
often complaning that they are under pressure to 'overblock'
rather than 'underblock' spam.
One contact, contesting John Gilmore's claim that ISPs
act as Big Brother in silently choosing what messages
customers do not see, thus commented that competition
in the ISP sector usually
means that customers who want to receive spam can move
to a service provider that simply does not offer much
protection from floods of dodgy email.
A less mordant response is that ad-based 'free' ISPs (where
the user pays no subscription fee and may even get a heavily
discounted PC in return for compulsory exposure to ads
chosn by that ISP) have not flourished. Consumers appear
prepared to pay a premium not to be forced to see junk:
they will censor spam themselves and use intermediaries
to censor on their behalf.
Consumers of free to air television and radio do not have
a contractual relationship that requires them to view/listen
to to ads disseminated by that broadcaster: 'washing'
the ad may mean the end of commercial networks (or merely
tighter expense accounts for network executives) but in
Australia and the US it is quite legal.
next page (unplugged