The influence of corporate advertisers on actual news content, as opposed to style, is both indirect, in that the media shapes its content to attract an audience that will suit its advertisers, and direct in that media outlets edit material that is likely to offend advertisers, especially with news stories.
In terms of direct pressure from advertisers, a 1992 US study of 150 newspaper editors found that 90% said that advertisers tried to interfere with newspaper content and 70% said that advertisers tried to stop news stories altogether. Forty percent admitted that advertisers had in fact influenced a story. According to Laurie Ann Mazur, co-author of Marketing Madness, in 1993 Mercedes Benz told 30 different magazines that it would withdraw its advertisements from any issue that contained articles critical of Mercedes, German products or Germany.
An editorial in Industry Week in 1994 exhorted advertisers to exert more influence over the television and radio programmes that their ads were associated with: “It’s time for managements to examine exactly what their ad dollars promote”. It suggested that captains of industry “determine carefully what they want their organisations to stand for—and against—and then direct their marketing colleagues to use those beliefs to help guide their advertising decisions... Advertising—or the lack thereof—can be a powerful weapon in our marketplace of ideas.”
In Australia, Rural Press, which has 126 print publications and 27 radio stations and is one of the largest media organisations operating in rural Australia, mixes news and support for advertisers. For example one of their managers has stated in the company’s internal newsletter:
Concern continues to be expressed about our failure to lend editorial support to our major clients. I’ve expressed frustration on numerous occasions about the lack of support for clients at some sites, and I’ve recently had complaints from ICI, CropCare and Elders. A failure to enforce commercial awareness, whether it be in the journalists or sub editors, will not be tolerated.
Former Washington Post editor, Ben Bagdikan, argues that advertising “deeply influences the subjects dealt with in the nonadvertising sections of newspapers and broadcast programs.” For example, the car industry is a big advertiser in the New York Times, a highly prestigious newspaper, and “Times publisher and CEO Arthur Sulzberger admitted that he leaned on his editors to present the auto industry’s position because it ‘would affect advertising.’”
The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has told how Forbes magazine, anxious to attract and maintain insurance company advertising (which in 1990 made up 7% of its advertising income), criticised personal injury lawyers for winning money off “outnumbered” insurance companies and attempted to bring Ralph Nader, a thorn in the side of the insurance industry, into disrepute.