Sunday, July 31, 2005

Payola and the seven magic words

Daniel Gross writes an entire article about record companies paying radio stations to play songs without once using the phrase "deceptive advertising." He does explain that, "government decided that radio stations should be as independent as possible from their suppliers (the music industry). The public should be able to count on radio stations to exercise independent critical judgment." But he fails to acknowledge that passing off paid promotional material as programming content is deceptive.

Does this sort of deception really matter? I'm not sure, but I'm struck by the willingness of radio stations and the music industry to break the law. It's perfectly legal for radio stations to accept payment for playing a song. Before playing the song, all that the DJ has to say is the seven magic words (or something equivalent): "The following is a paid commercial announcement." What's illegal is deception.

If the radio and music industries are willing to risk criminal convictions, they must believe that they are reaping significant benefits from this deception. Before declaring the practice harmless, Daniel Gross should figure out what those benefits are.


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