In our society the “Press”, in the wide sense of the word, is the “Fourth Estate”, meaning the “Fourth Power”. One may question whether this ranking is unduly low, but no one would question the “Estate” attribute of the Press. Indeed the Press is an institution of great importance in the life of society.
In our society the Press is financed primarily though the sale of advertising. I will not attempt in this short piece to discuss the pros and cons of the method by which we pay for our Press, or the various alternatives to the “advertising” mode for purchasing information. Instead I will take things as they are and look at some faults with the information bazaar as it now stands.
In a democracy power is held by the people who, of necessity must assign some of it to individuals to exercise for the benefit of all – tasks such as keeping streets clean, killing “enemies”, regulating cannabis and other chores needing collective attention. However in a democracy the delegation of power is done on condition of accountability. And while the power assignees are paid for their work, pride and honour are part of the “wages” for serving. Or, should be!
What I aim at, is to remind us that being an advertiser, active or potential, puts one in a position to regulate the flow of the money people pay for news and information. This is an honour for it is, in the final analysis, a position of trust. In other words, if you are empowered to pay on our behalf for our Press, you must be mindful of your obligation to fair play and of your duty to your customers and fellow citizens all of whom expect from you due diligence. So that besides advancing business, you do not neglect your duty of being one of the custodians of the society’s Press purse.
Not that it was much different in times past, but recently the situation has become acute, especially for the ink-component of the Press which is suffering most from the shift of advertising to electronic media. Correspondingly, through this transition, advertisers have gained power over the ink-media, relatively speaking. The peoples’ expectations from the advertisers, be they government or commerce, have grown accordingly.
In the local Salt Spring / Gulf Islands environment, arguably community media matter more than in other domains, I would dare say. This because for almost half a century by now, we live under the Islands Trust, imposed on us in 1974. An imposed government is by definition less accountable to its “subjects” than a government sprung from the populace. This imposition has since been “cosmetically moderated”, by “allowing” us to elect a couple of Trustees, thereby creating hues of democracy so as to foster some populace tolerance for the Trust. Since then it has been shown that many Trustees upon being elected, defect from the people to become embedded in the Trust. This adds to handicap inherent to being governed by a micro-parliament, lacking essentially the counter- weighting benefits from an internal “opposition”.
The Press is an “estate” because its role of being a watchdog of government and for serving as “opposition” to arbitrary governance. In our political predicament, the “opposition” attribute of the Press is pivotal to the well-being of our society. This stretches the importance of having a robust Press presence on the local political stage and augments accordingly the fiduciary duty advertisers owe the populace.
I tap out these words to remind the advertisers about the duty they owe their fellow citizens and customers. The system being as it is, it is they who now carry the burden to sustain a Press for the society. And this is a sacrosanct duty, because if the Press consolidates into a monopoly, “Power Corruption” kicks in and Despots spring up. The prospect is unpleasant to contemplate.
I am calling therefore, for government and business , to rethink the apportioning of their advertising Dollar. It is the citizens’ and the consumers’ Dollar they spend and this they should never forget.
Yes, I wrote this piece to call on you to recognize that we all must think of the importance of diversity in the media and pitch in a bit to boost consideration of the end effects of your decision on allocating your advertising budget. I do suggest you consider spreading your advertising Dollar fairly. And yes, I call on you to consider conveying your message through the Marketplace Because it is an asset to our society that we must maintain, and because your ad would likely pay you back.
PS. This piece I do absolutely on my own initiative.