Channel Seven, the Olympics and censorship

August 16, 2008

With the focus on media censorship in China during the Olympics, it is somewhat ironic that Channel Seven refused to run an ad encouraging PM Kevin Rudd, while he was in China, not to remain silent on the repression of the Tibetan people.

The ad, produced by GetUp!, was all set to run both before, and after, the Olympic opening ceremony. However, those GetUp! supporters who sat up all night and into the morning never saw their ad, even though it had been booked and paid for. When the group spoke out about this, Channel Seven management went in into a spin of excuses, none of which added up.

The ABC's Media Watch, which covered the case on August 11, exposed Channel Seven's excuses including that the ads were pulled (along with others) because the opening ceremony went over time. This didn't float, as ads booked for spots before the ceremony even began were not aired.

When Media Watch contacted Channel Seven and contradicted their excuse, Channel Seven directed them to Prime Television (the company in charge of Seven's programs in regional NSW, one of the places where the pre-ceremony ads didn't run).

Channel Seven then changed its story and claimed that GetUp! had booked an ad on the fuel watch scheme, not Tibet. GetUp! has since produced evidence that disproves Seven's claim.

Channel Seven couldn't keep its excuses straight. The Australian's Peter Lalor criticised Channel Seven in his August 11 piece saying, "Seven set a personal best effort at spin and miscommunication" and describing Seven's "craven self-censoring efforts" as representing "a gold-medal act of moral cowardice".

But where GetUp! and Lalor have got it wrong is to act as though this is an isolated incident, rather than just a more obvious example of establishment media censorship.

Lalor was shocked that this event occurred "in a democracy, where freedom of speech is a given". Getup!, in an email to supporters, urged people to speak out when "one of the nation's largest broadcasters puts its business interests before freedom of speech".

The problem is that broadcasters, such as Channel Seven, routinely put "business interests before freedom of speech". Corporations, including broadcasters, serve a private, not a public, interest. Because the establishment media is controlled by the few (media owners), rather than the many (public), those who disagree with the corporate economic and political approach are denied a voice. This has to change.

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