Sublime Programming: The Naked Truth From ACMA

Here at Highpants we love a conspiracy and nothing screams conspiracy more than subliminal messages and hypnotic TV transmissions.  Time to put on the tin foil hat for a minute. Lets consider the unusual situation of a government department having to reprimand a TV station for trying to hypnotize its audience directly or for using subliminal messages as a form of advertisement. Wondered why you have had cravings for a certain chicken from Kentucky, it may well have been the subliminal advertising Channel Seven, Nine and TEN have been using. This is not a theory or a hunch, All of the three big commercial free to air channels in Australia – Channel Seven, Nine and TEN – have all agreed to accept Enforceable Undertakings to halt these activities a form of co-operative punishment dealt out by the Australia Media and Communications Authority – ACMA -. Recently the show A Current Affair - ACA  a Channel Nine a nightly current affairs show – was investigated for contravening the ‘Don’t try to hypnotize your viewers’ rules of broadcasting. The actual section the contravened was  section 1.83 which actually does relate to not trying to hypnotize your audience. Interesting that a section needs to be in place to deal with this specifically.

Complaints about the ACA show lead to Channel Nine being investigated for really trying to hypnotize it’s audience. Now Channel Nines show A Current Affair has never been a heavy hitting investigative journalism kind of show, it’s light and fluffy but that is desperate behaviour by any standards. The show on the 8th of September 2008 ACA aired a segment ‘Think Slim’. The segment revolved around a hypnotherapist specializing in weight loss. Repetitive phrases were used leading into the segment, the segment itself involved the hypnotist facing the camera as if trying to hypnotize the audience for a minute. A novel idea free weight loss hypnosis over the air, live into your living rooms.

From the ACMA Media Release:
Throughout the segment references are made by the program’s host, the reporter and the hypnotherapist himself, to the fact that the segment would feature the hypnotherapist demonstrating a hypnotic process designed to assist with weight loss. The segment culminates in a brief hypnotherapy session that lasts for approximately one minute.

The ACMA found that the licensee breached clause 1.8.3 of the code in that the remarks made throughout the segment, in addition to the actual short hypnotherapy session that concluded the segment, clearly indicate that the segment was intended to induce a hypnotic state in viewers and help them lose weight.

The ACMA also found that the licensee breached clause 7.10 of the code by failing to provide a substantive written response to the complainant within the timeframe required by the code.

Clause 1.8.3 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2004 states that:

A licensee may not broadcast a program, program promotion, station identification or community service announcement which is likely, in all the circumstances, to:
be designed to induce a hypnotic state in viewers.

Still this was the first time Channel 9 had tried to Hypnotize it’s audience so no biggie you may think. ACMA reached an agreement for Channel 9 not to do it again and improve their compaint handling process. Case closed, for now.

Hypnotizing people using live tv may be an attention grabber but the far more common and troubling practice of Subliminal Advertising deserves far much more attention. At least Channel 9 isn’t the only TV station in Australia to come to the ACMA’s attention for this kind f complaint. During the 2007 ARIA Music Awards Channel 10 was very briefly flashing the sponsors logo’s on screen while the nominations were being read out. The rapid paced cut-in graphics where fast enough to be considered subliminal messages – any message below or near the threshold of normal awareness – contravening the industry code as they were too fast to register consciously. Has channel 10 discovered the power of the Blipverts – MaxHeadroom style -? In the last three years there have been 4 investigations into breaches of section 1.84, one was concluded as being a breach and he others were not considered breaches. The Ten investigation is detailed in the media release 120/2008 – October 8, 2008, and resulted in Ten coming to an agreement with the ACMA – Enforceable Undertaking to stop using subliminal advertising -.

From the ACMA Media Release regarding the ARIA Subliminal Messages:
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has found that the Ten Network breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2004 (the code) during the broadcast of the 2007 ARIA Music Awards on 28 October 2007 by transmitting images below or near the threshold of normal awareness.

Several complaints were received by ACMA about the inclusion of brief displays of sponsor’s logos during the nomination segments of the program.
ACMA reviewed the relevant material at slow speed and frame by frame. It found that the rapid-cut graphics used in the program was a ‘technique’ that attempted to convey information to viewers below or near the threshold of normal awareness, which is a breach of clause 1.8.4 of the code.

Under section 1.8 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice,
a licensee may not broadcast a program, program promotion, station identification or community service announcement which 9 Johnnie Walker classic golf tournament is likely, in all the circumstances, to:
1.84 – use or involve any technique which attempts to convey information to the viewer by transmitting messages below or near the threshold of normal awareness.

ACMA notes the Ten Network’s submission that the rapid-cut graphics were intended to be creatively consistent with the fast-paced look and feel of the music presentations. However, the code imposes clear rules regarding the use or involvement of ‘any technique’ which attempts to convey information to viewers.

The other investigations were concluded to not be breaches, which is not to say it didn’t happen just that the ACMA wouldn’t or couldn’t prove that it happened. One of the dangers of the ACMA system is that complaints such as these are supplied to them by the offending network (On DVD), not recorded by the ACMA on their own systems, which might be considered an absolute requirement if you are enacted with the task of supervising the media. The other investigations are detailed in Investigation Report 2102, 2200 and 2044. As the ACMA is a complaint driven organization this may only be the tip of the iceberg, there is no way of telling how often this marketting technique is being used at the moment.

Of the three 2102 was the least serious and involved the channel TEN show Rove Live – broadcast 17 August 2008 – flashing a picture of host Ryan Shelton – tv personality from a rival channel –  with devil horns, fire and the words ‘He’s not special’. Channels Tens response was basically we were just kidding. 2044 relates to an episode of Big Brother tht flashed the message ‘Eviction’ repeatedly. Investigation Report 2200 almost boggles the mind as it involves complaints about the 2009 Johnie Walker Classic golf tournament using subliminal advertising to sell Johnie Walker. This must be like mixing oil and water.

The true power of subliminal messages isn’t as simple as getting you to buy product X, it’s more subtle than that. These messages can prime an emotional response, An image of horror is transmitted causing an emotion response then an advertisement for something that makes you feel safe is shown. If your not a person interested at all in product X subliminal messages won’t help the advertiser but if you are interested then you may find yourself trying a new brand. Hypnosis can also be included in this category of marketing tools, but should probably be considered Subliminal Messages funny cousin.

This is all about circumventing our conscious minds. Advertisers are taking a dirty little short cut to our wallets and we haven’t even noticed. Even more disturbing is the fact that none of this is being covered up or denied, the information is all there on the web and in the ACMA’s files. Subliminal messages are being used at the moment and we can’t say how often. If they are done properly you wouldn’t even know they were there. Time for the squeaky wheel to get some oil, ACMA has a very useable complaint system and great investigators that will dig up the dirt if need be. Given that the ACMA’s process is complaint driven it is dependent on people using it, without that ACMA can’t take any action, so get to it. Next time you see something strange on TV let them know. If enough people comment about the same show wheels will be put into motion, they are government wheels so they won’t move fast but they will move.

Buddha’s Brother out…

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