Time for collaboration, not censorship – The Botten Line February 2020


After its own enforced winter break, The Botten Line is back with its first blog of a new decade.

As ever, please feel free to comment below or leave any thoughts for future discussion points danb@december19.co.uk.

Advertisers must be made aware of the consequences of association. Think collaboration, not censorship. 

Popular newspapers in Britain are commonly criticised for providing unsophisticated, distasteful and intrusive journalism, driven by an aggressive pursuit of exclusives and an unscrupulous desire for profit.

The most obvious example was the revelation that the News of the World hacked the phones of individuals including murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler (a revelation that prompting the closure of the newspaper in July 2011) is an example which helps to explain why attitudes towards tabloids are often so negative.

As journalist Jonathan Freedland commented, coverage of the incident painted a picture of a popular press that had ‘slipped out of the gutter and into the sewer’.

However, in 2020, some would argue that the press has now dived headfirst into the cesspit. The outrage aimed towards Meghan Markle followed closely by the villination of Caroline Flack has taken things far too far for many.

As someone who has been in pay at a well-known tabloid and broadsheet, I can safely say that I worked with some outstandingly talented and ethical individuals on both sides of the divide.

In the current climate, it is key that advertisers are made fully aware that a well-intended brand message can be immediately tainted by association if next to extreme content. Campaigning organisations such as Hope not Hate and Sleeping Giants will not hold back naming and shaming those involved however business specific their intent is when choosing certain media audiences.

With that in mind, providing honest and expert advice to clients on a potentially damaging situation is still key while leaving them with the right to make the final decision. To that end, pulling adverts as a form of censorship or immediate reaction is not quite the whole answer for me.

The weekends reaction from media owner and audience (ITV2) and advertiser (Just Eat/Samaritans) is a sensible example of joined-up, reasoned thinking.

Samaritans were given the platform to promote their mental health support line instead of the usual Just Eats sponsorship indents which showed clear understanding of a sensitive issue which benefits the audience, advertiser and media owner. Hopefully media owners, brands and their agencies will learn from these tragic events and apply a more mature and joined-up approach.

Rules, fools and regulators – Ofcom the new enforcers in town

Historically, regulators have lived to protect the public from the actions of companies and institutions but following this week’s statement from Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan and Home Secretary Priti Patel, things are about to change.

Now, after consultation, broadcast regulator Ofcom have been given responsibility to protect members of the public from each other.

The advantages to this appear obvious and clearly beneficial.

Ensuring companies like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook maintain a “duty of care” to users by ensuring that illegal content posted by its users is removed and monitored will have an immediate impact on cyberbullying and self-harm imagery.

Additionally, if said firms fail to protect their users from seeing this material then they will face fines, or worse. At present, we don’t know what these fines could actually amount to but Ofcom have history in this area. In the summer of 2019, a £200,000 fine was issued to RT for seven programmes covering the Salisbury spy poisoning, the Syria armed conflict and the Ukrainian Government’s position on Nazism – content that breached “impartiality and broadcast rules”

What’s interesting though is the definition of sites that Ofcom will cover. Forget your traditional behemoths, any website which publishes “user generated content” will be under Ofcom’s watchful eye, which, when you think of it, will cover smaller, niche online forums and the comments on news websites as well.

The old media powers will see this as another form of censorship and particularly onerous on their time and resource when they would argue they are not the heart of the problem.

Also, what about advertiser websites which link to Trustpilot reviews on their services or welcome user comments on their social channels? Will they have to monitor this content as well in the same way?

Anything that can be done to clear up the murky world of online poison is a win, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out in practice.

Free speech, as it should be, is paramount but the Government’s imminent proposed guidelines will really show up the devil in the detail.

The Spotify innovation continues and the kids (and parents) are alright

Talking of protecting potentially vulnerable groups online, it was great to see Spotify introduce its long-awaited Kids app this week parental controls.

As a massive music fan and father of two boys, it’s great to see them find their own way in the world of audio exploration until they chance on the explicit lyrics of Nine Inch Nails ‘Closer’ (seriously, look it up if you want) which, played at top volume, doesn’t exactly get you any Dad brownie points.

This then, is a great move from Spotify. Designed specifically for kids aged between 3 and 13, it’s available to Spotify Premium Family subscribers and launched to coincide with the Childnet International’s Safer Internet Day (11th February).

It gives parents the tools to protect children from explicit content, something that has been petitioned for back in 2012, four years after Spotify founded.

Of course, there is a win for Spotify as well. They will now be able to separate the behavioural data it can collect from adult users and child users who may be using their parents account (check).

With 6000 handpicked tracks and selected 130 playlists on tap from Spotify, it also allows parents to choose content for younger or older kids if they wish meaning that you can still influence your flesh and blood in a good way – think George Harrison having an equal footing with George Ezra.

Plus, kids can deselect any songs as well if they wish allowing me to listen to Straight Outta Compton whenever I like, in isolated splendour.

Written by december19