KSFO radio hosts apparently enjoy talking about killing people—even dead people—on the radio. It sounds a really lovely radio station. They talk about politics a lot, and they say what they think. The problem is, they think the kinds of things that get the occasional teenager into big trouble post-Columbine. If you write it for a class assignment, you get arrested. In talk radio, they call it "creative freedom."
KSFO is an ABC-owned and operated station. ABC parent Disney's complaint was that a blogger who doesn't like the station shouldn't be allowed to share audio clips on the Internet. Copyright vs. fair use—you can fill in the blanks. So they shut down an unknown blog, Spocko's Brain, who suddenly has attorney friends at the EFF and a much larger audience.
Let's rehearse lesson one: Corporate attempts to silence a critic through legal threats draw more attention than the original story they are supposed to suppress. The coverup is bigger than the original story.
Spocko appears serious about changing KSFO, and he/she is being smart about how to apply pressure. The blog names advertisers—not just companies, but individuals:
For example, I can not imagine that Dr. Julian Feneley, Chief Executive Officer of BriteSmile Inc. which is headquartered-in Walnut Creek, wants to hear right before his ad Lee Rogers say this about a listener, "I've got to try and track that email address and do something unpleasant to his cojones, if he has any." "None." says Melanie Morgan as she launches in to the BriteSmile commercial.Later in the same post, Spocko posts the name and email address of a marketing executive from another advertiser. Audio clips on the site demonstrate the juxtaposition of controversial statements with specific ads. The advertisers now stand to inherit some of the reputation-damaging fallout from Disney's problems.
Would you advertise on this station—would you voluntarily associate your brand with this mess? And then there are the negative comments about advertisers written in defense of the station. If the comments are really coming from someone at the station, that's another big problem—KSFO needs to find (or hire) a responsible adult to speak for the station and muzzle everyone else.
The real bottom line here is what I started with: involuntary transparency. Companies don't get to decide if the public is going to find out what they're doing. Especially in mass media, where your product documents your actions. If you can't handle critics who talk about your business practices, you should take a look at your practices. The critics have a press, too, now.
Disney's choices are:
- Stand by KSFO's programming and defend their on-air personalities' rights to speak their minds.
- Repudiate the on-air statements and make the station change.
- Ignore the issue and tacitly acknowledge that your critic is right.