2010年8月21日 星期六

Ban political product placement

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏
Saturday, Aug 21, 2010, Page 8


The other day I saw a news story about how Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) “coincidentally” appeared on the set of a TV series while a scene was being shot, just as the subject of urban renewal, a policy he is currently trying to promote, came up. The actor threw a few questions at Hau on “the spur of the moment,” setting up a “golden opportunity” that the director, who kept the cameras rolling, was never going to throw away. After all, the decision of whether or not to broadcast the clip could be made later, if he felt it worked.

You must be pretty naive to think this was all a happy coincidence. And the way the story was reported, one can only conclude that the reporters did in fact take their viewers for fools.

There’s nothing new about politics in TV programs, and it’s not like Hau’s campaign team were the first to come up with this kind of stunt. Discerning readers will know that this was a classic example of getting candidates for the year-end elections onto people’s TV screens, a case of clever product placement, to borrow a marketing term.

Instead of increasing the profile of a certain product by having it appear in a news story or TV program, we have a strategy to increase the profile of a politician or election candidate using the same method. Similar things are done with giving policies airtime on the news or some other TV show.

My guess is that, if this scene is indeed broadcast, it won’t be too long before we see other TV programs featuring the likes of Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) shaking hands with potential voters in night markets, or the cast of the show declaring their support for a particular candidate. Hau’s bit of product placement was nothing compared to what is to follow.

We will have to keep an eye on how the Central Election Commission (CEC) or the National Communications Commission (NCC) interprets it, and what they decide to do about it.

I personally have always been against product placement in the press, regardless of the circumstances, because I see it as taking advantage of the viewers or readers, as a form of deception on an unsuspecting audience.

It does seem, however, that we are starting to see the beginning of a new trend here.

Since there has been a number of politicians making cameo appearances in TV shows recently, it occurred to me that this is a perfect opportunity to explain exactly why I think the public should object to product placement in the media.

If the government allows it in TV programs, does this mean political policies can be showcased in TV programs or the news? Is it OK to have politicians positioned — paying their way onto –— TV shows or news programs to promote their policies?

How about if we have candidates appearing on TV or making their own news reports during election campaigns? And if they didn’t actually mention the election per se, would there be any reason for the CEC to get involved? How about the NCC?

I’m not saying that we should automatically say no to all of these, I am just making the point that these issues are worth discussing. I mean, we see this happening in the US, where they have had candidates appearing on TV playing guitar while espousing their political ideas.

The question is, where does Taiwan draw the line? Is it possible to apply the US model wholesale to Taiwan, with the specific blue/green scenario and a media still unsure of its exact role? These are important questions, and the government would do well to fix the roof while the sun shines.

Another thing that concerns me is that if we do allow product placement, and in the future electoral candidates, politicians and political policies populate our screens, what will that mean for the role of the mass media in a modern democratic society such as ours?

I find it difficult to envisage a day when politicians and electoral candidates in Taiwan can buy air time as and when they please to broadcast their political views. If that ever happens, it will be the end of TV shows as we know them: We’re going to be left with nothing but adverts.

Even more frightening, forgetting for a moment the consumer rights of TV viewers, this would mean that the mass media would become a tool for the government to manipulate the general public.

And how will it pay for it? From taxpayers’ hard-earned money, of course. Is this what we call a democratic government in a democratic society?

Some might think the above is slightly alarmist. However, I would contend that if society as a whole, and in this I include the governmental departments involved, continues to ignore the damage that can be done by political product placement in the media, things could get worse quickly.

Now it’s politicians appearing in TV shows; next they will be using these marketing techniques in news programs. It is hard to overestimate the severity of the problem. It might sound alarmist now, but if nothing is done, it could well become a reality in future.



Chen Ping-hung is a professor at the Graduate Institute of Mass Communication at National Taiwan Normal University.

TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER

From: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2010/08/21/2003480919

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