Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Brand-Free News

It was around 3:30 am in a newsroom of this TV station I used to work for. I had the graveyard shift and was really trying hard to look completely awake and alert that night, especially at the top of the hour as all eyes in front of their television were on me.

I found an interesting news on APTN about how a customer found a finger inside a bowl of chili at a Wendy’s chain in Las Vegas, if I’m not mistaken. I ecstatically told the producer about it, saying that this is news that would get people’s eyes open at that time of the day. So there I was translating this story for my script, getting the video edited to be aired for the next Headline.

This was supposed to be my highlight of the day. Yet when I was on air, my script had changed. There was no more “chili”, no more “Wendy’s”. My damn script was edited!

After the show, I went to ask my team what happened to my script, and apparently one of the producers did not want to include brands in the news, although it was shown on the footage. It was said that such a thing would mean advertising (good or bad) for the brands.

I went to one of the UN offices the other day and they shared with me all of these programs that need funding. Other than the US-AID, AUS-AID, and other funding organizations, corporate sponsorships are badly needed. I also had been in the position where I had some great ideas for an event, yet I had insufficient funds to realize the concept, and needed sponsorship from product or corporations. The products and corporations, ultimately, need public exposure by such cooperation. Fair enough.

Recently I spoke with an old friend who now works for a newspaper that belongs to a major publication group. He said that this media group is very strict, if not too anal, about news coverage that involve brands. He said that invitation faxes that bear sponsors logo would easily get thrown in the trash bin. I’m really sad to hear that.

Why are brands censored by the media? I believe that the audience needs to know the details of the news, for reference, for inspiration, as a warning, or anything. Should the brand or company do bad things, of course it should be made public. Yet when they do good things to society, why not give them credit for it?

I know for sure that editors do get the heat from the sales department for “promoting” brands/services in their content. Hell, I was once guilty for that when I was in the advertising sales dept of a youth radio. But what happens when editorial team gets a cut of the sales? A TV station is already doing that, and when I offered them a famous and respectable guest for a show, I was asked to talk to the Sales department. I mean… come on…

Another case is when I spoke to a local TV about providing a guest speaker from Maverick to talk about Crisis management on current issues on their program. The exec producer immediately told me that he couldn’t have the company’s name credited on the Title (under the name of the person), and that it could only be a “Pengamat Komunikasi” or “Praktisi Komunikasi”. So I replied “Don’t you think your audience would want to know who they’re watching, what this person does, what company is he/she from?”

There are so many people out there who are dubbed experts and not many people are actually aware of what their real occupation and field of expertise. Ong Hock Chuan calls it Expertitis in his unspun blog.

So, if you’re in the media and you’re still censoring out these brands… Relax. News is news and the people have the right to know. What do you think?

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