Cisco, CNBC arrangement blurs lines of journalism ethics

Product placements are becoming so commonplace on television shows these days that it's surprising that someone has noticed--and questioned--an arrangement between cable broadcaster CNBC and cable equipment supplier Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO). An article by Brian Steinberg in AdAge, however, questions whether CNBC's on-air use of Cisco TelePresence screens isn't "blurring" the lines of journalism ethics (and no, that's not an oxymoron).

While it could be argued that the bible of the advertising industry has an axe to grind about free publicity, Steinberg's point is worth noting because CNBC is using the equipment (which it is leasing) for news interviews with talking heads, "appearances (that) are likely worth at least thousands of dollars in promotional time," Steinberg writes.

The alarm bells are sounding because CNBC is no 24, which prostituted itself with Cisco product placements throughout its history. The use of TelePresence in a non-fiction format "shows the lengths to which marketers will go as they attempt to creep into what is perhaps the last TV genre to keep them at bay: news programming," Steinberg writes.

For its part, CNBC pointed out it's not using the equipment as part of its business coverage and if Cisco becomes part of a story CNBC will "suspend on-air use of its products."

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