Crikey reporter Jane Nethercote writes:



Qantas
has been busy promoting discount travel to Singapore as part of its
85th birthday celebrations – but they got more than they bargained for
when some of the ads flashed up alongside pieces in this
morning’s Sydney Morning Herald and Age online
editions about the forthcoming hanging of Van Tuong Nguyen in Singapore.

In the world of online media, editorial content and ads are dealt with quite separately (although
beneficial cross-promotion does seem to often occur
between copy and
ad, testing the boundaries of probability).

But when things go wrong, it raises an interesting question: where does the buck stop to
prevent tasteless clashes?

Qantas spokesman Lloyd Quartermaine told us the company usually books prominent ad
positions but doesn’t have any control over the editorial content that accompanies
ads. Hence today’s interesting marriage.

Even so, divorce was quick. Following Crikey’s call, Qantas asked for the ads to
be removed from stories about Nguyen Tuong Van. So does Qantas have a more general policy when it commissions ads to avoid
such problems? Not really. It seems the approach is more “after the
fact” than preventative. Qantas monitors how its ads appear and when there’s
a problem, it acts, says Quartermaine. Because this particular campaign is quite general
– Singapore is only one of many destinations – it didn’t immediately seem
problematic.

Any advertising-supported medium, in print or electronic,
is “prone to unintended and potentially offensive contrast between editorial and
advertising content,”
Mike van Niekerk, online managing editor at Fairfax, tells Crikey.

“As in print, editorial and advertising are separately
and independently prepared on news websites. Once booked, the
ads are hosted on an external ad server and are then served up randomly – it’s
pot luck in which stories and how often in those stories a particular ad will
appear.” That’s why the editors are
usually not aware of incidences until tipped off by readers, he says. In such cases, the
editors “can and do arrange for advertising to be removed from the stories in
question – although it is a measure not lightly taken and reserved only for
extreme cases, usually in the context of human tragedy. Such a one is the
coverage of Nguyen Tuong Van that you raised.”