9 اسفند 1393

Advertorials: The growing concern of adverts disguised as news

28 February 2015

Translated by: Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info –Niki Azad: Iranian newspapers today run articles that can hardly be taken as stories or adverts. Advertorials – adverts disguised as news or feature stories –have become a growing concern for Iranian journalists and are seriously undermining their most valuable asset –the trust of their readership.

Are we really witnessing a rising trend of advertorials in Iranian newspapers? Is it only local and financial newspapers or all Iranian publications are following this practice? How do advertorials affect newspapers and their audience?

Financial troubles and livelihood of journalists

Advertorials have always been a concern for journalists, a well-experienced Iran-based financial reporter says in an exclusive interview with Khabarnegaran.info :“In fact, that’s why newspapers have historically tried to keep advertising department – physically – apart from editorial staff, making them incommunicado toward each other as much as possible,” adds the financial reporter who did not want to divulge his name.

Advertisements, at least in Iran, account for the most of the newspapers’ revenue. Few media owners could resist such a tempting opportunity.

But the over-reliance on advertisements becomes even more extreme – like nowadays in Iran – when most publications are struggling with financial difficulties and tough business challenges.

“So, Iranian press are now experiencing a sharp fall in the number of advertisements, their audience, as well as their circulation,” he explains. Low salaries paid to journalists, as well as low newspapers ad revenue, have increased the momentum of the corrupt selling of advertorials.

We ask him to give us a clearer picture of what problems Iranian press are now struggling with. “On one hand, the livelihood of media workers is under extreme financial pressure. Now, the average earning of journalists of Iranian newspapers is just slightly higher than the minimum wage.”

“On the other hand, the newspapers’ sources of income have become scarce. The competition to carry advertisements from public or private sector has plunged to zero. The distribution of advertisements are unfair and unprofessional,” he explains.

Advertorials – which are disguised as news or feature stories – often attract the attention of readership, as they minimize the negative effects of advertisements.

The whistle-blower who wanted to remain anonymous claimed that journalists of certain publications are now encouraged to run advertisements. “Owners and managers of a few publications promise journalists commissions, overtime pays or bonuses to justify their near minimum wage.”

“Even if a journalist works two or three jobs, they still subsist on low income. So now that they have been asked to run advertorials, they find it a good chance to earn some money without feeling guilty about it.”

Journalists resign or protest against advertorials

Many times, we have heard journalists protest against advertorials in Iranian newspapers – some even resigned to express their disapproval of the practice.

The decisions about running advertisements disguised as news or feature stories is made by the newspaper owners, and not by the editorial staff.

We ask Arash Hasannia, Radio Farda reporter, about what he thinks of the rising trend of advertorials: “Well, it’s been now five years since I left Iran, so I can’t say if the number of advertorials has risen or fallen down. But this isn’t something new.”

“During my career in Iran, I had been witnessing advertorials in financial newspapers more than others. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had to resign and leave my job at those places. Because the final decisions are made by managers and investors, and if journalists or editorial staff object to such decisions, it will ultimately lead to their dismissal,” Hasannia explains.

Hasannia believes that the main reason behind the admission of advertorials by media managers is the financial troubles.

Advertorials mushroom in local press

Local press are now known notoriously for their running of advertorials. Pedram Najafi, a local reporter in Qazvin, tells us how running advertorials has been widely practiced in the local press.

“As far as I know, in many local publications, there’s no distinction between a reporter and an advertising space seller,” Najafi explains.

“When you look at the number of publications published across a province, you’ll see over 50 publications are published in a city with a population of half a million people. So, it’s quite clear that the readership is of little value to them, and it’s really predictable what kind of articles are published there.”

Solution still way out of reach

An Iran-based financial reporter believes that promotion of professional journalism, increase of salaries, and finding ways to financially help publications can change the status quo.

“We have a great way ahead of us to tackle the growing trend of advertorials,” he says.

Czech-based financial reporter Arash Hasannia likens the insatiable greed of some newspaper directors for earning more money out of advertorials to the chopping down of woodland trees by some governments.

“Although it has a short-term profit, it will cause irreparable damage in the mid and long terms. But unfortunately, the short lifetime of newspapers in Iran, as well as the high risk of investment in this sector, justifies any short-term profit at any expenses,” he explains.

Hasannia believes that it is unrealistic to expect journalists to resist running advertorials against the will of their managers, mainly because they are struggling with their most basic rights.

“They do not have a labor union or syndicate and their salaries are hardly a living wage. Their employment contracts are non-standard, often excluding social security or health insurance, and their working conditions are poor,” he explains.

Hasannia sees the possible solution in “ending the execution of newspapers at a young age”, by which he means the excessive government ban on reformists newspapers.

Najafi also underlines the fact that advertorials will cause the decline of readership in the long term. “The readership will no longer be keen on reading their articles. But will this change this practice? In my opinion, no.”

Today, Iranian journalism is facing with one of the most challenging threats to their greatest asset: the trust that their readership put in them.

There is a long way ahead to fight against the practice of running advertorials and there is no way but to resort to the principles of professional journalism. The Code of Principles of International Federation of Journalist, IFJ, reads: “News is not a commodity that can be traded”. But it is still traded in some Iranian publications.

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