Safety First: where are advertising dollars going – part one

The 15 March Christchurch terror attack was a complex, chaotic and unprecedented situation that evolved quickly as facts of the horrific event came to light. Local media organisations NZ Marketing spoke to – MediaWorks, TVNZ, Stuff and NZME – pulled advertising from its platforms once they knew what was unfolding.

TVNZ commercial director Paul Maher says there was a constant dialogue between the chief executive, head of news and current affairs, senior teams, news team, the commercial team and content team during the attack.

“The whole business was engaged in what was the best way to represent the events that were happening and what was the best thing for advertisers in this situation,” Maher says.

“In a commercial sense we work very closely with the agencies and the advertisers to make sure we are doing what is best for them in a brand safety context.”

At Stuff, chief executive Sinead Boucher made the call straight away to pull advertising content.

“We pulled it from our home page and any story pages or videos…it’s something we’ve learnt from long experience in significant news events like this, it’s not the time to be matching advertising with important news.”

A catalyst for change

In the wake of the terror attack, the Commercial Communications Council (CCC) and Association of New Zealand Advertisers (ANZA) released a statement that encouraged all advertisers to “recognise they have choice where their advertising dollars are spent, and carefully consider, with their agency partners, where their ads appear”.

This was followed by a letter from ANZA and the CCC to the global advertising and agency community, calling on them to petition Facebook to make “immediate changes to the security of its live-streaming platform or, alternatively, suspend use of it altogether until it can ensure the spread of such harmful content can never happen again”. ANZA chief executive Lindsay Mouat says this wasn’t about calling for a ban or a boycott of Facebook or social media but asking advertisers to reflect on where their money is spent.

“This is about getting sustained pressure over a period of time to encourage change. We want social media platforms to act responsibly just as we expect all media should act responsibly.”

There has been action from the New Zealand Government, most notably the Christchurch Call Summit initiated by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Held in Paris in May, eight major tech companies – including Twitter, YouTube and Google – alongside 17 governments and the European Commission signed the agreement that aims to eliminate social media being used to promote and organise terrorism and violent extremism, or in the words of Ardern, “build a more humane internet”.

 The new normal

Almost four months on from the attack, business continues for media organisations, but there have been some permanent changes.

Stuff has stopped advertising its website and its news products on Facebook while it assesses its position.

Boucher says following Christchurch a lot of attention was on Facebook livestream but that wasn’t the only thing about Facebook that was concerning.

“There’s so much evidence through the US election, Brexit, Cambridge Analytica, fake news…you have to challenge your own relationship with those organisations and that’s something we’re definitely doing right now and at the very least we don’t want to be funding it.”

Stuff has also permanently pulled gun advertising and a review of comments also took place.

“All of our comments are moderated by humans and we have a strict set of guidelines. [In December 2016] we launched a new project called the ‘civil society’ which also raised the bar for our comments significantly,” Boucher says.

“After the attack, we reviewed our standards again and we also tightened up the application existing policy – we made it very clear the bar has to be set very high.”

MediaWorks’ chief revenue officer Glen Kyne says while things have largely returned to normal on the advertising front, these events provide learning opportunities and templates for best practice going forward.

“Following the events, we reviewed our actions and processes to identify what we might do differently if this situation were to occur again, and largely found that we responded as best we could and as fast as we could. This was due to a huge effort from our teams who play a key role behind the scenes.”

Kyne says as far as brand safety goes, this has been a permanent conversation at MediaWorks for some time now, pre-dating Christchurch.

“We are always looking at our content decisions and associated advertising decisions and believe we have an obligation to viewers, listeners and advertisers to provide them with brand safety.”

While brand safety is not a new idea for traditional media, NZME chief commercial officer Matt Headland says there’s no doubt Facebook and other digital media platforms needed to step up in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack.

“I can only hope that the Christchurch Call delivers on the accord that was signed. It’s a great start…it’s an unprecedented agreement to make the internet safer, but it won’t be easy. The agreement is not enforceable and has no penalties.

“We will have to keep an eye on this, and our editorial teams will continue to report on the Call’s promise to ensure they are not just empty statements.”

In May, local media agreed to strict reporting protocols for the alleged gunman’s trial. A statement was signed by Media Freedom Committee chair Miriyana Alexander (NZME), John Gillespie (TVNZ), Shayne Currie (NZME), Mark Stevens (Stuff ), Paul Thompson (RNZ) and Hal Crawford (MediaWorks) regarding the coverage and reportage of the trial.

A unified approach by New Zealand’s biggest newsrooms will help [the group]inform the audience of the progress of the trial, Crawford says, while avoiding providing a platform for hateful ideology.

“In publicly agreeing to an approach that is reasonable, we avoid a plethora of decisions down the line and create an ethical consensus in the industry.”

Part two will be published on StopPress next week.

This piece was originally published in the 2019 Media Issue of NZ Marketing magazine. To get a print copy, subscribe here.

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