It is interesting to see when an advertisement gets banned. Governments rarely "ban" advertising, and it usually media networks who prevent ads from being shown for various reasons, but it does not happen too often. So, it becomes very interesting when an Australian ad, intended to be run during the country's election season, gets banned by various media outlets in a form of media self-censorship. What makes things more provocative, however, is that this ad did not target either the government or the opposition. It instead targeted a long-time looming figure in the media: Rupert Murdoch.
The ad, made by the organization GetUp!, shows a man criticizing the editorial stance of two of the largest newspapers in Australia, the Courier-Mail and the Daily Telegraph, both owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, in relation to the elections set for September 7. Accusing the papers of running a political campaign for the conservative opposition instead of news, the man uses a copy of the Courier-Mail to clean up dog feces. The ad was made to be placed on the three largest television networks in Australia, Channels Seven, Nine, and Ten, with the money for the ad buy coming from GetUp! volunteers.
However, when GetUp! attempted to book the ad, two of the networks, Seven and Ten, refused to buy the ad. Seven refused on the grounds it was "distasteful," while Ten refused because it criticized another media outlet. In the case of Ten, it should be noted that the network is run by Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan. Nine accepted the ad, and even ran it to some 600,000 viewers for four days in Brisbane, before it was cancelled after blaming it on a "coding error."
GetUp! believes that the reason they were banned from Australian air was not due to ad itself, but out of fear of earning the wrath of Rupert Murdoch, a media mogul whose giant shadow over Australia remains despite renouncing his citizenship nearly 30 years ago. They have gone so far as to file a complaint with the Australian government against the three networks on those grounds.
However, it is hard to confirm whether or not GetUp! really is suffering from media self-censorship. GetUp! previously had another ad banned for criticizing the gambling interests of key media sponsors. The ad itself can be seen as a little distasteful, and there is no confirmation from Seven that they even received an edited ad GetUp! claims to have sent them.
Still, just because an ad is distasteful does not mean it should not be run. Consider, in recent months, the placement of ads calling Palestinians "savages" on public buses around the United States, and attempts by public agencies to prevent their posting. While crude and nasty, they do represent a form of freedom of expression. Such expressions work in both directions. The question is whether we have the gall accept it.