Making TV worth watching again


Independent film producer Steve Garfield, has two reasons to enter's 'Bush in 30 Seconds' competition.

"First, I'm feeling really lied to about the reasons we went into the (Iraq) war," he says. "And second, I'm just doing corporate and music videos at the moment, but I want to get into TV production. This will be good practice."

The point of 'Bush in 30 Seconds' is not only to expose Bush lies, but to open U.S. commercial airwaves to the voices of ordinary Americans, a aim shared by Adbusters.

"We frequently run into networks that don't want to run our political ads," says MoveOn's Campaign Director Eli Pariser. "As far as I know, they can refuse an ad on any grounds."

MoveOn is not the only group to run into hostile television networks, the forthcoming January-February issue of 'Adbusters' magazine features an expose on how virtually every media network in the industrialised world refused to sell airtime for Adbusters' so-called 'uncommercials'.

Sound clips of adbusters trying to buy airtime are posted on the Adbusters website. "Anything that's controversial, we can't accept," says a voice attributed to MTV's manager of commercial clearance, Kristie Carlson.

"And we can't accept commercials that tell the viewer either (a) to turn off your TV -- that's our business; or (b) don't buy products. We have, obviously, numerous huge major advertisers. They spend an awful lot of money on our network (laughs)."

Kalle Lasn says this "boils down to the right of a TV station to make money versus freedom of speech, a first amendment right".

Now, he says, networks draw a false distinction between product advertising and advocacy or issue advertising, such as environmental messages or anti-consumerism messages.

"It's understood by almost everyone that 'product' ads are themselves advocacy ads,” says Lasn. "Everyone understands that BMW spends millions on ads that say both 'buy a BMW' and 'a personal automobile is the best way to get around.' That is advocacy."

"But when Greenpeace want to run an ad saying 'SUVs (sport utility vehicles) harm the environment', the networks won't allow it."

This is why Adbusters is going head to head with legal action against the three biggest U.S. TV networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. The lawsuits will aim to win the right for groups such as Adbusters to buy airtime.

"After that," Lasn says, "we'll see mind-bombs exploding. It will be wonderful. Television will no longer be a monolithic voice hyping us up to ever-higher levels of consumption".

"TV will be worth watching again. It will be a medium for debate, for communication, for voices."

about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

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