By The Nation
The sight of TV anchors presenting news reports with products placed in front of them has become increasingly common on Thai television. So-called product placement has been widely adopted over the past few years as media outlets struggle for revenue amid fierce competition.
More surreptitious are the articles in newspapers, magazines and websites, as well as sections or entire episodes of television programmes fronted by celebrities, that appear to be ordinary editorial content but are in fact paid for by businesses and advertisers promoting their products. Such content – at least for the sponsors and advertisers – appears to be more interesting and credible than traditional advertisements.
Increasingly desperate for money from advertisers, media outlets are opting to ignore the principle that dictates a firm line be drawn between in-house editorial content and paid-for items such as advertisements. The distinction is blurring fast these days, at a time when cash-starved mass media are relying heavily on advertisement income to balance their books or at least keep their heads above water.
This phenomenon has swept editorial rooms of not just television stations, but also newspapers and websites in the mainstream media. The result is an onslaught of advertising across all kinds of mass media directed at its consumers.
In this age of digital disruption, the mainstream media are facing a huge dilemma over how much they are willing to compromise on ethical values and journalistic standards in order to obtain the hard advertising cash crucial to their survival. For many outlets, the battle was over almost as soon as it was declared. Survival instincts quickly tore through the lingering concern over ethics. However, it is audiences who are now suffering the fallout, hit by an onslaught of disguised advertising in the form of advertorials, sponsored content and the euphemistically named “creative content”. Each refers to advertisements written, produced and presented in the style of editorial or journalistic content.
Through their different channels of communication, the mainstream media, intentionally or not, are promoting the most powerful culture of our current age – consumerism. They encourage their audiences to buy a multitude of products and services, often instilling in them a desire to acquire which is divorced from either need or reason.
Stimulating that desire has always been core to the success of consumerism. The age of latent advertising, though, brings a more dangerous and camouflaged form of temptation.
Protecting ourselves against it requires that we exercise our discretion and judgement more carefully when consuming content aimed at enticing us to buy something we may not need. We are now living in an age in which previously trusted media outlets collaborate with
brands whose purpose is not to inform and educate, but something closer to brainwashing.
Regulators and authorities also have a duty to protect the public’s right to truthful and factual news, ensuring that standards of journalism are not surreptitiously sacrificed completely on the altar of commercialism.
The danger that lurks here is that the media’s struggle for survival will kill responsible journalism almost entirely. When a media outlet’s direction is determined not by journalistic standards but by business imperatives, its owners and employees may well benefit. But its audience and the journalists it employs will stand to lose one way or another.