The arrival of mass television helped transform the relationship between citizens, politicians and the media. For cultural commentator Marshall McLuhan it meant ‘the medium is the message’ in that form mattered as much if not more than content. The study of television soon became integral to political communication scholarship. 1 Critics like Habermas and Qualter argued that, far from being a source of enlightenment, the medium might be used to manipulate, trivialise or otherwise subvert debate.2 Many on the left linked this concern to the commercially driven nature of the new broadcast services that rapidly developed during the 1950s. Writing in 1955 J.B. Priestley contended the power of advertising lay in its combining with mass television in the creation of a pervasive ‘admass’ society.3 This process was enabled and its importance augmented by a major period of sustained economic growth and the creation of a so-called ‘consumer society’. Advertising’s twin role as a form of persuasive communication and economic process made it the target of sustained ethical and ideological critiques. Williams described the medium as ‘the official art of modern capitalist society’ in revisiting concepts such as members of the alienation originally popularised by the Frankfurt School.4 Non-Marxist scholars also made telling observations. In The Affluent Society economist J.K. Galbraith challenged the advertising industry’s assertion that it was responding to existing consumer needs rather than creating new wants.5
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