Everyone who has used media has encountered some kind of regulation or restrictions at some point. You might have signed up for a competition and you had to accept the terms and conditions. You might have tried to watch a video on a website only to find that it wasn’t available for viewing in your country. You might have tried to go to a movie that was rated MA 15+ when you were 14, and were denied access. There are many types of restrictions and regulations when it comes to media, both at home and in public.
Personally I have encountered many media restrictions. What I find more interesting however is the restrictions media producers have themselves, especially in the public space. As a marketing student, I have recently been studying creative advertising and the types of regulations and restrictions they encounter in business. One concept often visited in both the advertising industry and the media industry is self-regulation.
Self-regulation is an environment where the government or the state formally hands over the power to regulate, so that the industry itself is actually regulating, in effect empowering the industry or business community to establish its own standards or principles (Spence & Van Heekeren 2005).
Self-regulation gives industries more freedom when it comes to producing content. In my opinion, for self-regulation to be successful, industries need to find a balance between creativity and ethics. Campbell (1999) believes there are certain factors that are key to the success of self-regulation in any industry. First, the regulators must have expertise and motivation. Second, the regulatory staff must have authority to enforce rules as well as review decisions or suggestions. Third, relatively narrow rules should be implemented to ensure standards are met.
A study of self-regulatory programs in many different industries confirmed Campbell’s third hypothesis. The study found that the programs with the most subjective standards experienced the most difficulty in implementation (Michael in Campbell 1999). I believe this supports my opinion that a balance is needed. Having standards that meet ethical guidelines for the industry is important when self-regulating. This is because ethics are often a good basis for what is suitable to present to the public (at least in media and advertising industries). These ethical guidelines need to be balanced with creativity. This is important because a safe advertisement or a safe media production may not be creative enough to gain the interest of the audience.
An example of an imbalanced self-regulation advertisement can be seen in the billboard that was up in Sydney for a period of time (shown below).
This image was presented on a billboard in Sydney to promote Bondi Junction’s Goodtime Burgers. This advertisement created a lot of controversy in the public, especially in the female demographic.
A lot of the time advertisers want to create controversy because it means more people will remember and recognise the brand. In this case, the advertisement was viewed by at least 500,000 people online (Meryment 2013, DT). According to Goodtime Spokeswoman Laura Brown, creating controversy was not the intention of the advertisement. The advertisement is “fun” and they “wanted to give people a laugh” (Meryment 2013, DT). However, this advertisement was definitely a risk. Using nudity or sex doesn’t align with ethical regulations, and therefore this advertisement does not have a good balance between creativity and ethics.
After many complaints the government took the billboard down. This is an example not only of the kinds of restrictions there are on media in general, but also the restrictions media can have in public spaces. If this advertisement had only been shown online or in magazines, there is a question of whether the advertisement would have been removed in that case.
Spence, E & Van Heekeren, B 2005, Advertising Ethics, Pearson, New York.
Meryment, E 2013, Look closer: cheeky burger campaign has some spitting chips, Daily Telegraph, 14 December, viewed 19 September 2014, <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/look-closer-cheeky-burger-campaign-has-some-spitting-chips/story-fni0cx12-1226782712974?nk=38982bc6263f06d649ccd840b06153ee>.
Campbell, A 1999, Self Regulation and the Media, Federal Communications Law Journal, vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 711-772.