The suspicion that commercial television stations sold news coverage on their morning newscasts is just the tip of a very large and worrying iceberg. The Second Television and Radio Authority on Wednesday began investigating the issue via a hearing with Channel 10 and the two Channel 2 franchisees, Reshet and Keshet. Selling news coverage - a form of stealth marketing that for years was referred to by the euphemistic (and confusing ) term "marketing content" - is a practice well known to those engaged in producing television programming. It results from the relentless pressure that advertisers, public relations agencies and corporate spokesmen exert on those responsible for broadcasts, and sometimes on presenters as well.
Television stations have not coped well with this pressure. They gradually opened the door, just a crack at first, to those behind it, which steadily widened until it became a revolving door with no oversight. What began with aiming the camera at a food mixer or frying pan on a cooking program morphed into interviews with the manufacturer of a "natural" remedy in the guise of a journalistic discussion.
As far back as eight years ago, journalists and Knesset members had already exposed the television and radio authority's weakness in the face of the spread of this unacceptable practice. Yet not only did it not stop, it got worse. Menashe Samira, the authority's current chairman and former director general, turned a blind eye to the issue for years.
So stealth advertising morphed into open advertising. Programs that dealt with quality of life, tourism, health, entertainment and fashion were all apparently produced especially to serve as clearinghouses for blatant advertisements. Even Educational Television was not too embarrassed to produce "marketing content."
With no one to stop it, "marketing content" turned into a method that enabled franchisees to circumvent the rules and produce programs at little cost. This unacceptable practice essentially spares advertisers the need to pay full price for advertising, as required by law, while also demonstrating contempt for the public. It results in poor-quality programming that exposes viewers to vacuous and unnecessary information.
The television and radio authority cannot allow this madness to go on any longer. Ending it will be difficult, because franchisees have gotten used to relying on this source of easy money, even though it would seem to violate the law, which allows advertisements only in slots specifically allocated to this purpose. But television has grown addicted. And only vigorous enforcement can wean it from its addiction.
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