“Maintaining journalistic independence from advertisers is critically important. So important, in fact, it’s frequently referred to as the church-state wall...Unfortunately, many local advertisers have either completely broken those rules or violated the spirit of them through a practice known as sponsored content – where advertising is blended directly into the broadcast.”
We know that sounds suspiciously like a Newslaundry subscription appeal. But it’s television host John Oliver explaining how local news stations “sell out” their integrity, when the lines between news and sponsored content blurs. (See what we did there.)
In his latest episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Oliver had one simple question for the owners of news channels: “What the fuck are you doing?”
Oliver pointed out that a viewer is expected to be “smart enough” to notice, or that news channels would protect their viewers from fraudulent claims, but this isn’t the case.
“Right now, it's far too easy to make a ridiculous product that makes outlandish claims and get it onto local TV,” he said. “And the reason I know that is, we did. We started a company called Venus Inventions and created something called the 'Venus Veil,' an absurd medical product based on technology that absolutely doesn't exist.”
Oliver tricked three news stations into featuring “Venus Veil” – described as a “sexual wellness blanket” – to show how easy it is to get questionable products airtime. The process was also “not difficult enough”, he added, and not “that expensive”.
Oliver’s context was American audiences and their faith in local news channels, but it hits close to home in India as well. Just last year, we saw news anchors for Baba Ramdev and his “Covid medicine”, Coronil.
Watch Oliver’s segment in full.
Also watch the latest episode of TV Newsance where we looked at Uttar Pradesh government ads that praise chief minister Adityanath to the moon. These ads look a lot like news bulletins and have been running across channels like news stories. When Yogi Adityanath pays, Yogi Adityanath will be served. But when the public pays...you know the drill.
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