Advertising Censorship. Lawrence Soley. Milwaukee, WI: Southshore Press, 2002. 64 pp. $5.95 pbk.
Advertising Censorship offers a short, synthetic, and anecdotal introduction to the ways advertisers sometimes pressure media to alter their editorial content. The quantity of anecdotal evidence is both the strength and the weakness of this book. Media students and professionals unfamiliar with such practices will undoubtedly find the examples interesting and alarming in their numbers. Others, however, may find the book lacking in perspective and more carefully considered solutions. The result is a brief that tells L many stirring stories without demanding much thought into the issue.
Soley begins with a broad statement of the "problem" of advertising censorship. "Newspapers and other media edit or kill stories offensive to advertisers because media profits come from the sale of advertising, not sales of the medium to consumers." Drawing on examples dating from the 1930s through the present, he outlines both overt and subtle ways advertisers have interfered with media content. He explains that explicit threats by corporations to withdraw t advertising as well as retaliatory cancellations of contracts have created an environment in which editors sometimes make news decisions based on advertisers' rather than the audience's concerns. In addition to killing and burying offensive stories, they often avoid controversial topics such as sexuality and politics, which might reflect poorly on advertisers, and produce editorial content that promotes advertisers.
After providing an overview, Soley gives additional, more detailed accounts of such practices in newspapers, television, and magazines. While still relying heavily on anecdote, the author also presents research findings, thereby bolstering his contention that such practices are widespread. For example, drawing from already published survey results from 147 daily newspaper city editors, Soley reports that more than 50% of editors have felt pressure to tailor content and more than 35% have actually done so. Though the sections on particular media fail to add much new data to the literature, they offer a solid review of research on advertising interference.
The author leaves little doubt that corporate sponsors sometimes do censor media content. But why should we care? Soley fails to articulate how such actions, which simply make economic sense for the profit-driven media, create a larger threat to consumers and society. Through his many examples, he illustrates that consumers may miss important product safety information or receive only a single perspective on social and political issues such as health care. In addition, the media arguably avoid some minority groups such as gays and lesbians at the behest of advertisers. …