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Advertisers as Censors

Broadcast Date: Saturday March 29, 2008
Janet Leigh screams in the shower in the famous scene from the film, Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Images)

According to author C. Edwin Baker, "Advertisers, not governments, are the primary censors of media content... today." Terry O'Reilly respectfully disagrees - and this week he'll explain why. He'll review the long relationship between sponsorship and censorship - from early Radio, to Hitchcock's Psycho, through the more recent woes of radio jock Don Imus. Do advertisers really decide what you should see, hear, or think? And if they don't - who does?

We'll review the decision of Lowe's Home Building Centres to pull their sponsorship of "Big Brother 9" after a remark about "retards" by one of the contestants. We'll talk about Ed Sullivan refusing to televise Elvis's hips, his curbing of the Stones' lyrics for "Let's Spend the Night Together", and his attempt to soften the Doors' "Light My Fire".


Previous Comments (8)

Thanks for making your programs available online I try hard to listen every week but sometimes miss thanks

Gerrid, March 29, 2008 2:06 PM

I disagree with your premise that we are the censors but I love the logic. Very convoluted. Good show.
Tony Russell

Tony Russell, March 31, 2008 1:09 PM

Thanks for the note, Tony, and for the kind remark.

Niceties aside: c'mon, you can do better than that.

Terry made a case that advertisers have neither the power nor the inclination to censor art. And that the ever-changing winds of public opinion drive whatever censorship others invoke.

What's your view? Who *are* the censors today?

In an age where so few barriers separate audiences from content- *are" there censors anymore?

Mike Tennant, April 1, 2008 11:54 AM

Right now, the FCC is the censor that sets the standard. Look at some of the fines they've handed down in recent years, including in the silly Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction and some of the ridiculous actions against Howard Stern.
The FCC and the American network censors simply try to guage what "Middle America" will not tolerate, then try to prevent that material from going on the air. It bugs more sophisticated people, but they'd criticise TV and mass culture anyway.

Mark Bourrie
Dept. of Journalism
Concordia University

Mark Bourrie, Concordia University faculty, April 1, 2008 8:17 PM

In an ever increasing Nanny state, more decisions and moralistic rulemaking is being shifted from the hands of the individual and into the hands of the body politic. Is this what we want? I am sure that the creation of Bill C10 - the latest molly coddling initiative, instigated by the “holier than thou” Christian right to allow the government the ability to censure film making and withhold important funding to filmmakers if the government feels the content of the film is too explicit.
Censorship for whatever reason should not be tolerated. We tend to think of ourselves as reasonable and responsible - why aren’t we left alone to be so?
As so far as it pertains to television or any other media – like the doctor told me when I hurt my hand - if it hurts don’t use it. When it comes to mass media - if it offends - turn it off - and no one will judge you surreptitiously sneak a glance at the morally objectionable material - at least not today.

Nicholas Gardner, April 2, 2008 11:30 AM

I find it interesting that many people seem to feel that others should be responsible for censorship. Isn't that what the on/off switch is for? If I am offended by abusive language in a show, I change the channel, or turn it off, or leave the theatre, or whatever.

If someone were paying for an advertising spot, and was offended by the show, I would expect them to do the same.

What's the problem?

Thank you, Terry and company, for making a wonderful thought-provoking show, as usual. I have found it very useful in my own work as a lecturer and writer, and look forward to more.

Mead Simon, April 4, 2008 1:20 AM

Great one, it exposes not only the interests of the advertisers and principals ( Ex Ed Sullivan) But this episode shows how times have changes. I recall seeing Gone with the Wind and looking forward to the "Frankly I don;t give a damn" . It was the arly 60's and this line elicited a laugh by then. Considering what we hear now it sure was tame.
Frankly I don't give a damn ( Now where did I hear that ?) about foul language as much as I do about gratuitous violence.\
As to the Stone, hell they are still spending a lot of nights together touring the world...okay enough puns...:) Great show

Dr Michael Pilon, April 5, 2008 8:08 PM

Add my voice to those who are absolutely tickled to find the shows on-line. I'm the master of either missing the show or catching every second set of 5 minute portions, with liberal interruptions in-between. Wish the show would run all year instead of just a few months, but I guess you need time for your real job and to write/produce, etc. Great show; I've passed along the name/time/link to many people.

Tom Rankin, April 6, 2008 10:41 PM
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