An Irritating Invasion
Too many commercial breaks spoil the show, Photo: Zahedul I Khan.
With 15 private television channels, one state television along with a number of FM radio stations and newspapers and magazines one would think that Bangladeshis have an overdose of infotainment. But ask any TV buff about how much they enjoy watching TV and see the look of disgust on their faces. The constant bombardment of TV commercials, sometimes for as long as half an hour, takes away most of the enjoyment derived from watching a favourite programme or show. Whether it is news, talk show, drama serial or film, television channels never miss a chance to take a commercial break. Often the programme (news or other entertainment segments) itself gets lost in the series of back-to-back commercials.
Advertisement is a communication tool to persuade people to buy a particular product or service. Advertisers take the help of the mass media to reach their target people. People often become aware of new things, new features of old things, remember different brands through advertisements. If the exposure of people to media gets limited by the tendency to force the viewers to watch advertisements frequently in a single programme, the purpose of both the media and advertisement should be questioned.
So what is the acceptable number of commercial breaks and how long should these breaks be? Media experts think that the issue of the proportion of advertisement to be aired should be framed in an updated media and advertisement policy. Associate Professor of Dhaka University Dr Abul Mansur Ahmed, who teaches Mass Communication and Journalism, says, “The very first policy regarding advertisement was formulated back in 1976 which mostly concentrated on the rules and regulations for advertising in newspapers. And the second one was formulated in 1982 which also cannot be called a complete one. The interpretations and clarifications for advertising in media were vague on the policy.”
At that time mass media was highly dependent on government advertisements. The advertisement regulation had a provision that gave the government the authority to select a particular media to advertise with. Such provision of selecting media in terms of 'assessing competence' gave enough scope for vested interest groups to take advantage, says Dr Ahmed. But the media scenario is completely different now as today's media has a huge number of private advertisers and the number of private TV channels has multiplied since 1997, observes Dr Ahmed. “But we do not have a comprehensive media policy yet which can meet the contemporary requirements of media houses, advertisers and above all the audience,” he adds.
There is no comprehensive advertisement policy in the country. Photo: Zahedul I Khan.
Regarding the proportion of advertisement being aired on television, Dr Sakhawat Ali Khan, Professor Emeritus, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, Dhaka University, thinks that a media house might have its own in-house policy to stipulate the number of advertisements to be aired or printed, but if there is no comprehensive advertising policy to guide the system it is difficult to expect the media to be socially responsible and not be preoccupied with just making money.
Saiful Bari, Chief Advisor of ATN Bangla gives an account of their initiatives to curb the problem of frequent airing of commercials on his TV Channel. “We have already increased the rate of advertising with ATN Bangla in prime time which halved the number of advertisers who want them to be aired in prime time.” Again, ATN Bangla has stopped telecasting 'Banijya Sangbad' (a segment of bulletin presenting business news) at 7pm and 10pm bulletin. Business news is a kind of advertisement that promotes particular companies and the rescheduling it into the 12am bulletin is another step to minimise viewers' disapproval to frequent advertisement, says Saiful Bari.
It is not only the number of advertisements that become a nuisance for TV viewing. Often, the advertisements are made in bad taste, have misleading information and even give negative messages to the public. Sometimes advertisements even humiliate any particular segment of society. Dr Kaberi Gayen, another DU teacher says that a number of advertisements tend to convey wrong messages to the people by using distorted language, ridiculing particular professions or being highly gender insensitive. “Yes, it is understood that television channels have to consider the money factor to operate smoothly in the competitive market, but that does not mean that media will do only business and will not care about its probable negative impact on people.”
Often TV commercials, mostly in a bid to be innovative and eye catching, tend to show things that might mislead or deceive the audience– for example, reporters or news presenters are reporting news of a crisis (which is fake) and then suggesting a solution (where the brand name shows up) for the crisis. Sometimes viewers cannot distinguish between reality and make-belief, from advertisements and actual news reports.
Saiful Bari says that his television channel is well-acquainted with the responsibility of serving public interest, thus, they try to control airing TV commercials assessing them by their content. “We request the advertisers to provide tasteful advertisements. Our own policy is not to air any advertisement of tobacco products and alcoholic liquor. We do not want to be part of any controversy and we stop telecasting the commercials which have been questioned for their content.”
There should be a complete policy not only for broadcasting the advertisements but also for other programmes to regulate the content of media. Having such policy will not be any threat to the freedom of expression of the media rather it will secure media's role and responsibility to speak for the people. If the issue of telecasting a huge number of commercials in between programmes, naming every segment of the programme by the sponsor and the tendency of inserting commercials every few minutes remains unaddressed in the absence of standardised advertising policy, television viewing may become the least popular means of entertainment.