Edgeler on free speech and boycotts

Graeme Edgeler has a lengthy post at Public Address on the consequences of calling on advertisers to boycott shows. I recommend people read it in full, as it is hard to do justice to it with just some extracts.

I don’t like advertiser boycotts; especially not boycotts of advertisers for the content of the programmes during which their advertising appears, and especially not if that programme is news or current affairs.

Yes, has consequences. But the exercise of in response also has consequences.

There are several aspects to this. I do not think that advertisers should exercise control – even indirectly – over content. For advertisers, the programming is the medium, not the message; a programme is a conduit to the audience of a broadcaster, not something they should generally been seen as supporting. Especially when we are dealing with news or current affairs, those advertising during a particular programme should not be seen as endorsing the views expressed in it. And I think that if people generally treat advertisers as bearing responsibility for editorial content, they are more likely to either want some control over it, or to spend their advertising dollars in a way that has that effect.

We have ad-supported broadcasting. While there might be a place for a real public broadcaster, most of the radio and television we have will continue to be ad-supported. I like that there is a variety of things to watch and to listen to (most of which I don’t). But if we really start holding advertisers to account for the content of programmes or channels on which their ads appear, then they will be more circumspect about placing ads, and some voices may be lost.

That is not to say that those calling for boycotts should be stopped. Their speech is just as worthy of protection as the speech they seek to shut down. I simply ask that they consider not only the consequences of the speech they are protesting, but also the consequences of the speech they engage in.

I may agree that the speech targeted in one boycott is ill-considered, or harmful in some way, but next time a boycott succeeds it might have the effect of reducing speech I like, or think is valuable. Targeting Freeview over something Willie Jackson and John Tamihere have said, or Heritage Hotels for something Paul Henry said over which they had no control (and shouldn’t have control) in order to punish their broadcasters for airing them, isn’t fundamentally different from arranging a boycott of Four (or Mediaworks) for airing an episode of South Park about the abuse by Catholic clergy, or someone else for airing pro-homosexual propaganda like Queer Nation or The L Word.

Well said.  Again, I recommend people read the whole post.

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