ADVERTISING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS THE MEDIA: REGULATORY ASPECTS OF THE PRESS, TELEVISION AND ADVERTISING INDUSTRY. The role of the media goes much further than simply providing information about events and issues; media also play a formative role in society they are largely responsible for forming the concepts, belief systems and even the language which citizens use to make sense of, and to interpret the world in which they live In other words, media play a major role in forming our cultural identity. Industry self-regulation in advertising and media Self-regulation is a principle founded on the liberal ideology of non-intervention by governments in private enterprises. Self-regulation is invariably cast in a rhetoric of assurances that the industry will be socially responsible and dedicated to safeguarding public interests.
For many years, the advertising industry had practiced and promoted voluntary self-regulation. Most advertisers, their agencies and the media recognise the importance of maintaining consumer trust and confidence, therefore the rational for them to do so is not because it profits the industry that this be done, but rather because this benefits the citizen through better administration, systems, accountability and outcome. Advertisers also see self-regulation as a way to limit government interference, which they believe, results in more stringent and troublesome regulations. However, self-regulation is not simply the absence of regulation.
Firstly, there is self-regulation where the operators and other interested parties in the media sector agree among themselves on certain behavioural rules. The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 places the obligation of determining and developing appropriate industry and community sector codes upon the broadcasting industry. The essential aim is often to obviate the need for government action. Secondly, there is self-regulation that fits in with a legal framework or has a basis laid down in law. In this case, public authorities generally lay down a set of objectives, and some general behavioural rules to be achieved, but leave it up to the operators and other interested parties to establish, implement and sometimes monitor the more detailed rules whereby these objectives are achieved. The media constitutes an important self-regulatory mechanism in the advertising industry.
Most media maintain some form of advertising review process and, except for political ads, may reject any they regard as objectionable. However, one of the fundamental needs of any self-regulatory system is that there be some umpire of oversee and ensure the industry's compliance with its obligations to public interest. Codes of Practice governing Australian Media Organisations One of the main self-regulatory bodies is the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). The ABA are an independent federal statutory authority responsible for the regulation of free-to-air radio and television, pay TV, digital broadcasting and Internet content in Australia. In terms of content regulation, the ABA assists the different sectors of the television, radio and Internet industries to develop codes of practice relating to content and handles complaints by members of the public, community groups or other advertisers about advertising, which they regard as misleading or offensive. The ABA also develops and administers program standards on Australian content and children's programs on commercial television and conducts research into community attitudes on programming matters.
The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 is a regulatory regime, which sets out a consultative role for the ABA with respect to the way program and advertisement content on, commercial radio, commercial television and children's television are regulated. It allows various broadcasting industry sectors to set their own programming guidelines, in alliance with the codes of practice. The primary responsibility for ensuring that programs reflect community standards rests with radio and television stations themselves under a system of industry developed codes of practice. Various codes of conduct exist for varying Australian media organisation, such as free-to-air radio and television, pay TV, digital broadcasting and Internet.
However, the codes predominantly cover the matters prescribed in section 123 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, and other matters relating to program content that are of concern to the community. These codes are intended to operate alongside the ABA's Standards, which regulate programs for children and the Australian content of programs and advertisements. Advertisements are matter which draw the attention of the public, or a segment thereof, to a product, service, person, organisation or line of conduct in a manner calculated to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly that product, service, person, organisation or line of conduct. Advertising codes are predominant, within codes of conduct governing commercial television and pay TV within Australia. The Federation of Commercial Television (FACTS) regulate the content of commercial television in accordance with current community standards, whereas the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA) is the industry body representing companies allocated subscription television broadcasting licences by the ABA. A major distinctive feature of pay TV is the direct contractual relationship between the service provider and the subscriber.
This voluntary relationship between the provider of a retail service and a subscriber to that service, provides subscribers with freedom of choice along with the capability and responsibility to select the programs they wish to receive. Pay TV has a smaller target audience to commercial television and is further differentiated from free to air television in terms of the number of different channels, total hours broadcast, reduced advertising opportunities and the niche nature of much of its programming. Nevertheless, even though commercial television has mass appeal and a mass-market target compared to the niche nature of pay TV, both exhibit very close similarities in relation to advertising provisions contained within their codes of conduct. The object of these codes is to ensure that advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful and that they have been prepared with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society and fair sense of responsibility to competitors. Fundamentally, each complies with the Australian Association of National Advertisers, which act as a means of advertising self-regulation in Australia. However, as the audience is paying for the service of pay TV, the codes of conduct are especially sensitive to the expectations of the audience about advertising content of particular channels at particular times.
Advertisements broadcast must seek to be consistent with the relevant codes applicable to advertising, and comply with the Federal and State law in respect of television advertisements. Both codes show similarities relating to issues regarding misrepresentation discrimination, and community standards on health and safety. Advertisements should also be broadcast appropriately in the light of current community attitudes without the exploitation of community concerns. These codes also limit exposure of children to material intended for adult viewing, and subject television advertisements for products and services which are of particular concern or sensitivity to additional placement restrictions. However, advertising codes governing pay-TV seem to be a lot more stringent in regards children's advertising, and the scheduling of advertisements, in comparison to provisions contained within those of commercial television. The codes recognise that special care must be taken in the broadcast of advertisements on channels intend for consumption by children, whereby advertisements for children products do not contain or deploy anything which is likely to cause alarm or distress.
However, within pay-TV codes, channels that broadcast children advertising must publish its own code specifically addressing advertising directed at children. This conduct is further exaggerated, whereupon each channel provider is not only required to address children's advertising, but is expected to develop individual codes for that particular channel and lodge those standards with ASTRA and the ABA. Advertising broadcast on pay-TV must also be given appropriate television classifications based on the usual classification criteria of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. Technology available to pay-TV includes the ability to entirely block out channel or in some instances to block certain levels of classified material (Parental Lock). The code also contains a scheduling of advertisements clause which acknowledges the relationship between a licensee and its audience. The licensee must take into account the intellectual and emotional maturity of it's intended audience when scheduling advertisements, and where appropriate the licensee will promote the use of the Parental Lockout device or other similar devices.
Media complaints process Codes of Conduct together with The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 perform dual functions; it gives the industry a firm set of principles to guide it, and it gives a clear and consistent framework with which complaints form members of the public can be addressed. The Act lays down primary responsibility for handling advertising complaints and the resolution of complaints within the mass-market media - press, radio and television rests with the station or broadcaster themselves. If the content relates to a code of practice, the complaint is usually made directly to the station concerned, predominantly in the form of a written letter, however, telephone and fax complaints are also valid ways of lodging a complaint. The station should tell the complainant how it intends to deal with the complaint and what opportunities are available to take the matter further. The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 provides that broadcasters themselves handle their public complaints by the standards determined with the community as codes of practice.
This is usually the quickest way of obtaining a correction or apology for inaccuracies. However, if the complainant does not receive a response within 60 days, or is dissatisfied with the broadcasters response, the self-regulatory system provides recourse to the ABA. The ABA refers to these as unresolved complaints and investigates complaints so made. In general terms, the flowchart on the previous page suggests the process in which a complaint would go through. However, it must be noted that the example has been depicted from the National Advertising Division (NAD) resolution process, an American advertising industry self-regulatory body, and been modified to relate to an Australian environment.
Any action taken by the ABA as a result of a breach of a code of practice or the Act will depend on how serious the breach is found to be. The ABA has a range of sanctions available to it - it can make compliance with a code or practice a condition of licence, or alternatively it can take administrative action, to ensure compliance with the Act. The ABA may also impose program standards that would apply to all broadcasters in an industry sector to ensure that breaches do not occur. The ABA aim to be objective and impartial, assess all of the information before it, and to use that information to achieve compliance with the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. However, the ABA are also conscious they do not have the sole responsibility for regulating the broadcasting industry, but do so in cooperation with each sector of that industry under its scheme of self-regulation.
Appraising Self-Regulation The advertising industry views self-regulation as an effective mechanism for controlling advertising abuses and avoiding the use of offensive, misleading, or deceptive practices, and it prefers this form of regulation to government intervention. Limitations exist in relation to self-regulation, and the process can be criticised in a number of ways. For example, complaints resolutions may take months to resolve, during which time a company may stop using the commercial anyway. It has also been noted that self-regulation is self-serving to the broadcasters and media industries and lacks the power or authority to b a viable alternative to federal or state regulation. However, the truth is that we do not know what the media markets of the future will look like. The future is not determined by technology alone, but by a whole range of cultural, social and economic factors.
Therefore, it is necessary in adapting regulatory tools towards new developments and changes in the media landscape, as and when they occur.
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Belch, George E. and Michael A. Belch, 1995, Introduction to Advertising and Promotion: an integrated marketing communications perspective, Irwin, Chicago.
Windschuttle, K, 1988, The media, a new analysis of the press, television, radio and advertising in Australia, Penguin Books, Melbourne.