Corporations can also use sponsorship, a more indirect form of advertising, to influence the content of the media. The US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio are heavily dependent on corporate sponsors for their broadcasting because government funding is not enough. By 1981 oil companies were subsidising almost three quarters of prime-time shows on the US Public Broadcasting Service.
Projects that are unlikely to attract corporate sponsorship are much less likely to go ahead. According to the host of one of PBS’s shows: “You cannot get a TV or a radio show on the air in America these days unless it targets an audience that corporations are interested in targeting and unless it carries a message that is acceptable to corporations.” This means that conservative current affairs programmes get funded whilst those critical of corporate activities do not.
In the US, there is enough business for at least one advertising agency to specialise in producing commercials for public broadcasting. In Australia the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) is not legally able to screen advertisements nor obtain sponsorship. However, an ABC journalist who spoke out about ‘back door’ sponsorships and financial influence over programming, suffered victimisation and lost his job despite an unblemished employment record and several journalism awards. (He was later reinstated following an investigation.) Government cuts to the ABC during the Howard conservative government reopened the question of sponsorship and advertising as an alternative source of funds, although the public clearly does not want advertisements on the ABC.
In 1989, Turner Broadcasting decided to broadcast a documentary produced by the Audubon Society, Rage Over Trees. Even before it was screened the broadcaster and its advertisers were bombarded by letters, telephone calls and faxes from the Wise Use Movement complaining about the film. As a result all the programme sponsors withdrew causing Turner to loose $100,000 in revenue.
Another Audubon documentary The New Range Wars was broadcast in 1991 by PBS. The film, which accused cattle ranchers of overgrazing fragile grasslands and threatening endangered species, whilst being subsidised by public taxes, was considered “too controversial” by Ford, which withdrew its PBS sponsorship.
Prospective shows are often discussed with major advertisers, who review script treatments and suggest changes when necessary. Adjustments are sometimes made to please sponsors....corporate sponsors figure they are entitled to call the shots since they foot the bill—an assumption shared by network executives, who quickly learn to internalise the desires of their well-endowed patrons.