It is no surprise that the Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump has ruffled feathers from the very beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign. From his offensive comments towards women to his extreme views on immigration, Trump has not been shy expressing his often controversial political views.
Up until now Trump has been winning primary elections state after state, but recently Trump lost a significant battle with the media, which may prove to have rippling effects on the remainder of his presidential campaign.
On Monday, June 3, BuzzFeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti announced to employees that BuzzFeed will no longer accept ads for the Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump. In April 2016, BuzzFeed signed a deal with the Republican National Committee worth about $1.3 million, according to Politico , which would run ads supporting the Republican Presidential nominee in the fall prior to the general election.
Just two months later, BuzzFeed publicly announced that they would not accept Trump for President ads, comparing Trump to cigarettes: “they are hazardous to our health.” This “business exception” of turning down over one million dollars in revenue is rooted in Peretti’s belief that Trump’s policies would be bad for his employees, and as a result, his company.
There are some obvious questions: Will BuzzFeed suffer any consequences as a relatively new player in the media space? Will other US media corporations follow suit in this refusal of political money? The not-so-obvious question is whether some version of equal time laws should apply to interactive publishers with significant reach. After all, if Buzzfeed disallows ads from Trump, ought it to allow Hillary Clinton access to its ad inventory?
BuzzFeed is more than just a major US publisher. It has evolved into a media giant with a large following over the past few years. Last week BuzzFeed drew a deep line in the sand that they may never be able to erase. This firm ban on the Republican National Committee advertising is atypical for traditional media outlets, which are required by law to give equal access to advertising to political parties to avoid giving unfair advantages to one party or another.
But should these equal time restrictions continue to survive in a multi-channel world where media consumption is so fragmented?
It is not wise for any media company that would expect to be viewed as non-biased and independent, to completely block one candidate’s advertising. The decision here was based on one individual’s morality and bias, which does not comply with traditional standards of journalism. Relatively new media sources like BuzzFeed and Facebook, though, can reach hundreds of millions of people – many of them U.S. voters. Large digital properties are in a complicated position, as they try to balance social responsibility as traditionally perceived by mainstream news outlets like network TV, with maintaining what they might believe to be their overall responsibility to the ultimate well-being of its user base.
It seems as though BuzzFeed is setting a precedent here, but will this become the new normal in political advertising? What might happen if a large confederation of digital publishers decided to block advertising from a particular candidate? Would this destabilize the playing field? Should these digital media companies have the power to decide what the American public is exposed to during the election season?
As of now, no other media outlet of Buzzfeed’s size has followed suit in rejecting one candidate’s political advertising, however there is still time left in this 2016 political frenzy. Not only must Americans worry about the extreme views of the presidential nominees, but also those of the media, the so-called fourth branch of government.