The Guardian

The Guardian July 4, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Fiddling with the volume

It's nice to know that there are still politicians in our Federal 
Parliament who have their finger on the pulse of the really important 
issues confronting the people of Australia.

And even nicer to know that there are Labor politicians who are prepared to 
take a stand on what is happening to television in this country.

Oh, I don't mean the destruction of the ABC or the galloping 
commercialisation of SBS. Oh no.

Labor Backbencher Michelle O'Bryne has introduced a Private Member's Bill 
into Federal Parliament to give the Australian Broadcasting Authority the 
power to set standards for the loudness of television commercials.

Yep, while Shier drives out the ABC's best and brightest and replaces them 
with people committed to commercial television's lowest-common-denominator 
approach, Ms O'Bryne is fiddling with the volume control knob on the ads.

The futility of her Bill (which, incidentally, rejoices in the 
extraordinary name "Quieter Advertising Happier Homes" Bill) seems lost on 
Ms O'Brien. Apparently, by using a technique called sound compression  
which removes background noise  ads can be made to seem louder without 
actually being louder.

Advertisers want to get your attention, so that you notice and remember the 
content of their ads. So they shout, harangue and generally irritate.

Viewers who find the ads annoying because they are "too loud" (or too 
stupid or too tasteless or too whatever) are reacting exactly as they are 
supposed to. If an ad irritates you it must have grabbed your attention; 
ergo, it's a successful ad.

That's the way the thinking goes in advertising circles, at any rate.

Let us leave aside for the moment the gobs of public money that will have 
to be paid to specialist "consultants" to determine just what is an 
"acceptable" level of volume for an advertisement.

The proposed Bill raises all sorts of practical problems. Will different 
types of ads have different volume levels set?

Since the burden of the complaint is apparently that the ads are louder 
than the programs, will ads in quiet programs have to be recorded at a 
lower volume than the ads that are run in loud programs?

And what about the ads that run in the quiet parts of a loud program? Such 
nonsensical questions arise spontaneously and in quantity when you begin to 
take capitalism at face value.

Capitalism wants loud ads; they irritate people and make their message 
noticeable. People don't want loud ads; they just irritate.

Kerry Packer once candidly described a commercial television licence as "a 
licence to print money". I have said before: commercial TV is an arm of the 
advertising industry.

It has no mission to inform, or enlighten or, least of all, to educate. Ads 
are not "naturally" part of television. The advertising industry hijacked 
TV because they very quickly saw the possibilities for using the new medium 
to make big bucks.

Now, you can work within capitalism's own parameters and try to "regulate" 
the loudness of the ads, as Michelle O'Bryne is trying to do. Or you can 
take the radical approach of opposing loud, obnoxious ads on commercial TV 
with a well-funded non-commercial public broadcasting service with at least 
one extra channel, a service that by definition does not have any ads at 
all. You can't get quieter ads than that!

* * *
Cutting-edge technology Laws are made to protect people, the politicians say. If asked, "against whom?", they will probably answer "against criminals". But they could as readily answer "against the free enterprise system". Because we sure as hell need to be protected against the latter. Just the other day, on June 26 to be exact, Police Ministers in all States (except Tasmania, for some reason) agreed to ban a whole slew of weapons that have previously been legally available. You could buy them from shops that sold guns and other things that some people claim they need for "protection". They include such delightful playthings as maces, flails, retractable blade sheath knives and so-called trench knives (these are generally large knives with knuckle-dusters built into the handle). Such mundane objects as weighted gloves and extendable batons ("a baseball bat you can put in your pocket") pale into insignificance beside throwing axes, hand and foot claws (the mind boggles) and nasty things called shark darts. Until these lovelies were banned, the free enterprise system made sure that the "demand" for them was met.

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