Prepaid promotion?

The issue of «state-sponsored advertising» has returned to the fore recently following the «exposure» of yet another media owner who received a financial reward for advertising state services. The state, its services and public enterprises theoretically promote their services in the same way as any private business. But this is just in theory. In reality, the promotion of state services often doubles, at least indirectly, as backing for party supporters. And the case that attracted public attention last week is just the tip of the iceberg. The provision of advertising in return for sponsorship is not an isolated case, nor is it the fault of one «guilty» deputy minister. It is an established tactic – to such a degree that it has been imposed by a circular drawn up by the minister of state. This is no exaggeration. A circular issued by this minister foresees that every state advertisement in the press must get equal exposure in all national publications. And a price list has been drawn up, according to which the financial papers charge twice as much as the sports papers even though the latter have a much higher circulation. The irrationality of all this is clear. The state systematically avoids determining which publications it should advertise in in order to achieve the broadest possible coverage despite the availability of tools for measuring the effectiveness of advertising. This intended absence of criteria invariably leads to advertisements being printed indiscriminately in all publications regardless of their specialization. If the state wants to advertise a sports bet, it must do so in the financial pages which no sports fan reads. If it wants to promote incentives for farmers, it must do so in publications which attract an equal proportion of urban readers. If it wants to advertise investment programs in high technology, it must also do so gossip magazines. The only explanation for this irrational state of affairs – which has been highlighted by the union of advertising firms – is that the country’s political leadership is not really interested in the effectiveness of state advertising but in financing parasitical newspapers. The public often wonders how these publications manage to survive. The answer is that they are funded by the unknowing taxpayers; the government imposes the provision of state funding to parasitical publishers, squandering state funds and preserving sensationalist publications at the taxpayers’ expense. In this broader picture, what is the sense of questioning the actions of a specific deputy minister?