Would you boycott the sponsors of a show you didn't like?

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We've been talking a lot about the introduction of advertising changing content in online journals. Here's the other side of that: would you as a consumer use your power (however meager) to push advertisers into abandoning a television or radio program because you disagreed with the message? Do you think this is an appropriate way of getting your own message across? Do you think it's effective?

-- Anonymous, July 31, 2000


I think it's a good way to get your point across... Sort of. Obviously, the Christian Coalition's boycott of Disney hasn't hurt the Mouse any, mostly because the coalition's members haven't all followed the boycott. You have to be sure a sizeable number of a company's clientelle will join you, otherwise the effect will be negligible. The bad press that a large boycott brings, however, might be enough to sway the company from advertising on a particular program.

In the case of Stop Dr Laura, I am totally behind their cause. In as much as the advertisers have a right to support The Dr Laura Show and Dr Laura has a right to her opinions, I also have a right not to buy anything from the show's sponsors.

However... In practice, I'm a horrible activist. I am a consumer of habit; I'll go to the grocery store and buy the same things over and over, boycott or no, simply because I don't remember I'm supposed to be boycotting something. Plus, when you get into these huge multi-faceted companies (like Proctor and Gamble or Phillip Morris), you'd have to carry around a list of what things you can't buy.

"Let's see... I'm boycotting Proctor and Gamble because of their advertising on The Nazi, Klan and Khemer Rougue Variety Hour. That means I can't buy Always pads, Tampax tampons, Bounce or Downy fabric softeners, Sunny Delight drinks, Bounty towels, Cheer or Tide or Gain or Dreft detergents, Clearasil zit cream, Cover Girl lipstick, Crest toothpaste, Crisco shortening, Vicks cough drops, Folgers coffee, Ivory or Noxzema or Oil of Olay soap, Jif peanut butter, Mr. Clean wax, Pampers diapers, Pert shampoo, or anything with Olestra in it. Hmm... That shoots down my entire shopping list. Might as well go home."

-- Anonymous, July 31, 2000

As Atara said, it can be effective, but you'd need a lot of people to follow you for it to work. I doubt I'd do it myself, at least not over something like a TV show. I may find some program offensive to me, but if, say, HMV advertised on this program that wouldn't necessarily stop me from buying CDs from them. If their business practices were bad or if they came out and endorsed pedophilia and slavery then that probably would stop me. If someone was going to lose my custom I'd rather do it over something important, or at least more important than just because they run their ads during a show I dislike

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

The thing about TV is that the shows are actually funded by the advertising, which is piad for out of the money that the companies make selling us stuff ... which means that if you buy the products, you are actually funding the show. That's how I tend to look at this boycott, and that is why I get particularly angry when people (not to mention anyone in particular, Salon) talk about it as though it were a free speech issue. Excuse me, but I don't think free speech requires me to fund a TV show for anyone, whether I like what they say or not. Of course, people also use boycotts to try to change things, but I think the basis of a boycott is a refusal to participate in something you think is wrong, so the effectiveness of the boycott isn't even that relevant to the decision to boycott.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

I believe that most advertisers feel that material offensive to viewers of a television program they sponsored would cause the viewer not buy their product. I think they're right.

I believe that sponsors exert pressure on producers of television programs not to include such material in their shows. To run it by them in advance, many times, just to be sure.

Plus, to conspire means to breathe the same air. To swim in the same zeitgeist. The really well-trained dog jumps through the hoop without being asked.

The advertisers of products on television thus influence, if not determine the content of our literature, because nothing that questions the morality of making stuff we do not need, stuff that is destructive, stuff that rots our minds, makes us passive consumers, fatalistic, rather than active, citizens, is going to be vetted by the man who pays the piper.

That's what's wrong with commercial broadcasting. It pollutes and weakens our literature. Our very way of knowing about ourselves. Who we are and what our choices for the good life are, a principled life, the kind of life you used to read about in books, and may still do, at the discard sale at the library, as they make way for 100 copies of the latest glitzy trash as plugged on Oprah Winfrey.

So commercial sponsorship is a free speech issue, only in the opposite way from how it's pitched.

Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one. That's why who has 'em, has 'em. To control speech. Limit it.

Noncommercial, public broadcasting is just as commercial as commercial broadcasting, only less honest.

Where will you hear that, about them?

What's the alternative to an alternative that's been co-opted? A wolf in sheep's clothing? A whited sepulcher?

The Internet. While it lasts.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

"Noncommercial, public broadcasting is just as commercial as commercial broadcasting, only less honest."
Um, how's that? I've been a public broadcaster (radio). Pretty much the only self-censoring I did was to make sure I didn't play things that would make us lose our license (i.e. hate material, libel, etc) - there was absolutely no pressure to make some commercial interest happy. We were funded partially by the student body of the university we were at, and partially by our listeners, and to a very small extent, by advertising (usually from record companies or local Mom-and-Pops).
It's my understanding that public tv works similarly, and is primarily supported by viewers through those funding drives they always seem to have on. I fail to see how a disparate group of thousands of viewers could have the sort of effect on programming that a single multinational advertiser can.

I'm with Louise on this one. I don't think boycotting is a free speech issue - it's just refusing to fund the speech.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

But Joanne, by refusing to fund the speech you are, in effect, censoring it, because if companies refuse to sponsor a show for fear of boycott, the networks won't air the show.

I wouldn't be sad if Dr. Laura's show, or the loathsome Howard Stern show got cancelled, but just as Beth said I wouldn't want it to bethe result of a small group of people exerting economic pressure to decide what is "appropriate" for the rest of us to see. If you don't like a show, don't watch it, or speak out about it on the internet! If a show gets bad ratings, it'll be cancelled, which is a much more democratic way to go about it.

I'd like to know if the people advocating boycotts would be OK with it if people boycotted the advertisers of "Buffy" because it deals with the occult, or if they managed to get "Will and Grace" pulled because it has a gay leading character.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

If somebody wants to boycott an advertiser of Buffy, that's their right. They aren't censoring Buffy - they're just refusing to support the production and broadcast of the show.
If we're going to equate 'refusing to fund' with 'censorship' then, as we speak, we are censoring thousands of people by not paying their internet bills, or not giving them arts grants, or not buying a printing press for them. That's just absurd.
If the end result of a boycott is that advertisers pull funding, well, the show can find other sponsors, or they can pay their own way, or they can speak in a less expensive forum, like cable tv or public radio or the internet. Granting the right to free speech does not obligate the citizenry to pay for others' speech.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

Sure. I boycott things more because I feel soiled by being associated with them, though, than because I think it's effective. I won't go to Domino's Pizza or Wendy's because I've heard that their owners give money to Operation Rescue. That's fine, but they'll have to do it without me chipping in.

I don't keep track of other products because it's just too complicated and the companies are so huge. I have been watching this Dr. Laura thing to see if anyone does sponser her.

I don't think it's censorship at all, though it can work out that way - the producers claim they couldn't get sponsorship for some controversial show. So, we should support those products and companies.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

By boycotting a product, you are not just "refusing to fund" them, you are actually withholding funds that you would have otherwise given them in an attempt to pressure them into doing what you want them to.

Since network television shows are all funded by advertising, and there is no alternative method of sponsorship in place, I think that pressuring advertisers to withdraw is censorship. Joanne's analogy to "not paying their internet bills, or not giving them arts grants, or not buying a printing press for them" does not hold up for three reasons: one is that in the cases mentioned in the previous sentence the individuals would have alternate means of sponsorship, which is not true of television shows; two is that in those scenarios, you weren't supporting them to start with; and three is that despite the fact that you say "the show can find other sponsors," wouldn't you then boycott those sponsors as well?

Advocating an advertiser boycott is more akin to saying "I don't like what you're saying with this printing press I bought for you, so I'm going to take it away, and I'm going to use my economic power to prevent anyone else from buying you one, too."

Joanne also said that "Granting the right to free speech does not obligate the citizenry to pay for others' speech" which is actually not always true, at least in the U.S. The Supreme Court decided this year that it was not unconstitutional for the University of Wisconsin to require its students to pay an activities fee which supports the activities of campus groups--including those groups which not all students support.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

No. I would be more inclined to boycott a show because of a sponsor I didn't like.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

I may go on at length here, I apologize in advance.

In a consumer society with privately-owned media (unlike say, Canada's CBC), there are only two ways to effect change. Using money to buy or not buy a product, or becoming a shareholder and voting. I think it's essential that consumers use whatever power they have to encourage the media (television, radio, film, print) to adopt a viewpoint/support a cause they approve of. That is the essence of democracy.

The problem lies in failing to recognize that these powers lie with everyone equally. Because I believe Dr. Laura is a mindless twit with a dangerous and misguided sense of right and wrong, I will never knowlingly do anything to support her or her products. I may also take an active stance against her by signing petitions, letter-writing and boycotting. Alternatively, the Parents Television Council thinks professional wrestling is proof of Satan's existence on Earth, and have effectively stripped much of its advertising support. I don't think much of the PTC and don't really care about wrestling, but I'd prefer they didn't stick their nose in 'cause they've also got problems with Will & Grace and gay people in general. For better or worse though, they've got the same right to campaign against their perceived wrongs as I do against mine. I can only hope that their boycott remains small and ineffective, while mine is large and powerful.

The censorship takes place at a different level. To censor, you must have power over production (I think this is similar to Jack's comments). Commercial advertisers can exert power over the producers of television because they can threaten to withdraw the advertising. If the producer is strong-willed, they will seek out other advertisers, if not, they will buckle. In publically-funed media, similar pressure is exerted by whoever is funding money. As long as that is a large cross-section of the public, the message shouldn't be one-sided. The minute they rely on government or corporate support, they are open to the same pressure as commercial media. In response to Joanne, I think this is where campus or community radio risks being the target of censorship attempts. If the student government says reduce the gay show to half-an-hour or we reduce your funding, the station then has a choice to make. A committed one will say no and publically castigate the government in the hopes of gaining public support. A weak one will meekly agree.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

In the case of the radio station I worked at, if the student government had said reduce the gay programming or we reduce your funding, we would have laughed at them. And probably written an article in the school paper, but maybe not. We had guaranteed funding - in order to remove even a portion of it, they had to have a referendum of all students, and get a majority of a quorum to agree to pull funding. It's unlikely they'd take something like that on, and even more unlikely they'd win. It's my understanding, though, that this works differently on different campuses, and that we were fortunate to have had forward-thinking founders.
In fact the only people who successfully dictated content guidelines to us was the Canadian government, through the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission). That wasn't a monetary thing at all - they don't control or influence your funding, but they can revoke your license.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing - the airwaves in Canada are still public property (we didn't sell them to private business like the US did - which, by the way, is really freaking weird for a country that prides itself so much on free speech), which means that if you piss off a sufficient portion of the public, who owns the airwaves, they can, through the CRTC, revoke your license to use their property to air views they disapprove of. It's not a perfect system - it's complaint-driven, so there's a higher proportion of crackpots involved than would be representative of the general public - but it mostly works since there are lots of checks and balances.
Sorry to have gone somewhat off-topic.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2000

I agree with Chris. To censor, you must have control over the process. When a manufacturer discontinues a product because it didn't sell, that's not censorship. If the government made it illegal to make and sell the product, that would be.

-- Anonymous, August 02, 2000

The right to free speech is not the right to an audience. Dr. Laura can say anything she likes, and if someone started a gag Dr. Laura fund, I wouldn't support it. I support her right to say anything she likes, just as I support the right for David Duke and Louis Farrakhan to say anything they like. I may hate what they say, but they are have the right to say it.

They do not, however, have the right to an audience, and I am happy, extraordinarily happy, to participate in boycotts of products that give them an audience. If the companies believe in the message, and want to market to people who agree with that message, more power to them, but they won't get my money. The companies have to decide where they want their money coming from, and how much they're willing to lose to continue supporting that message.

I don't have the power or the inclination to censor Dr. Laura. I do, however, have the choice as to whether or not I will pay for the platform for her speech, and I choose not to. I am not a biological error. I am not a predator. My love is not deviant. My money's not going in her pockets.

Official boycott site.

-- Anonymous, August 02, 2000

But Lizzie, by withholding funds from the sponsors, you are asserting control over the process. If people didn't watch the show and the ratings were bad, it would be cancelled--which I think is fine. What I think is unfair is when a small, non-representative group uses its economic power to attempt to force a cancellation. It's not democratic, and it's actually quite scary to me that people want to use this method to force social change--you are giving the most power to the people who have the most money.

And as I said before, while I wouldn't shed any tears over Dr. Laura getting cancelled, I would be furious if a small group of powerful, wealthy conservatives boycotted the sponsors of a show I loved and subsequently cause it to be cancelled.

I didn't watch the show "Ellen" but as many of you will recall, the Christian Coalition initiated an advertiser boycott of the show as soon as Ellen DeGeneres came out on the show as a lesbian. As a result, advertisers, including GM, Johnson & Johnson, Wendy's, J.C. Penney and Chrysler did indeed jump ship, and the show was cancelled just a few months thereafter.

-- Anonymous, August 02, 2000

"Censorship" is a word too lightly throw about. Censoring occurs when individuals are told they face fines or physical punishment for their speech, or they are censored when the goverment stands aside and knowingly lets mobs attack them or shout them down. No law-abiding individual can censor another.

In the United States, censorship most often occurs in college or University settings.

Only the government can censor, since they are the only ones who can put jail or shoot the speaker without repercussions.

I have no problem with any sort of voluntary boycott. Like many ditto heads I boycotted Quaker Oats when they fired Rush Limbaugh as the spokesman for Snapple. It must have worked, as sales declined until Quarter sold Snapple to another company who rehired Rush. Sales went way back up once the new management brought The Great One back.

I used to join my local PBS station, figuring that the good programming about science and history was worth supporting despite the liberal bias of the network's news programming. I stopped when I found out that PBS was sharing mailing lists with the democrats, that was just a bit too much. That's not censoring them however.

I can't stand Dr. Laura, she sounds too much like the mirror image of your typical self-righteous liberal. But I'm not going to boycott her sponsors. If people want an authority figure to tell them how to live then I'd rather they listen to Dr. Laura rather than "Hillary!" or Al Gore.

-- Anonymous, August 02, 2000

Censorship, shmensorship. I have no moral obligation to buy anything from anyone. Therefore, I can refuse to buy a product because its producers sponsor the Dr. Laura show, because it wasn't made in the USA, because the package color would clash with my wallpaper ... whatever.

I'm free to tell the producer why I'm not buying their product, and I'm free (within the bounds of libel law, etc.) to encourage other people to not buy the product. The producers are free to take these things into account when they set their corporate policies, including their decisions about what radio and TV programs to sponsor.

Jennifer Wade complains that this is anti-democratic, but in these United States, access to the airwaves is about as democratic as access to money. If I walk into a TV station and say, "I'd like to have my own show", the receptionist would probably pat me on the head, give me a lollipop, and tell me to go home. If Dr. Laura becomes so unpopular with advertisers that she gets the same treatment, why should I care about her plight?

-- Anonymous, August 03, 2000

Sorry, but my boycotting a product because I don't like who they're sponsoring is not "asserting control over the product." When a show is cancelled because the ratings are bad, it's like an economic boycott: the producers of the show can't sell ad time to attract enough sponsors. It's not that they figure nobody was watching so the show must not have been very good. Or, there are shows that are very popular but go off the air anyway, because the demographic they attract isn't one advertisers want to target.

I don't see it as any different from writing letters to complain about a show. And I don't see why viewers shouldn't be able to influence show. They're supposed to be the public airways, after all.

It seems like a jump to go from boycotting products to a group "using economic power." You don't need to be wealthy to not buy something. If these powerful wealthy conservatives are doing something else to influence stations that carry shows they don't like, that's a different issue. The bigger question is, why do the stations give in to these groups if they're indeed the minority view? That's what I think is wrong.

I've heard that the reason Ellen's show got cancelled was that it decreased in quality and people stopped watching, not because of the boycott.

-- Anonymous, August 03, 2000

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