Clauses Noted: 1
Publication: Wirral Champion Magazine
Mr J E Thomas of Neston in Cheshire complained that Wirral Champion magazine had misled, and continued to mislead, readers by failing to distinguish clearly between pure advertising material and advertising material that appeared as editorial copy in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.
The complainant had recently paid a company called ‘John Knight Glass’ to undertake some renovation work in his home, and had been disappointed at the quality of the work carried out. He noticed that articles in Wirral Champion Magazine regarding the company bore little resemblance to his experiences, being, as they were, wholly positive in their tone.
The complainant had written to the editor of the magazine to inform him of his own dissatisfaction with the work done by John Knight Glass at his home, and to suggest that the positive articles regarding the company were likely to mislead readers. He suggested that the role of the magazine should be to inform readers of the true performance of companies, and intimated his belief that the magazine wrote positive articles purely to obtain, and in return for, advertising revenue.
The editor of Wirral Champion admitted that the articles to which the complainant objected, and others of the same type, were written by the magazine’s editorial staff and were written in order to obtain, and in return for, advertising revenue. However, the editor did not agree that these ‘advertising support editorial’ pieces were likely to mislead readers ‘any more than any other advertising claim or statement’.
The complainant was unhappy with the response he received from the editor of Wirral Champion and maintained that articles of the type he objected to were likely seriously to mislead readers. He acknowledged that some readers were likely to be aware that the articles were written as, essentially, pure advertising material. However, he contended that many other readers would simply assume that the articles were independent assessments of the various companies involved.
The Commission acknowledged that some readers would have been quite aware that the articles were simply an alternative to the more traditional advertisements which also appear in the magazine. However, it expressed concern that not all readers would necessarily have been aware of the situation. The Commission considered that those who did not realise that the articles were a form of advertising may have been left with the impression that they constituted independent assessments of the companies to which they referred.
Whilst it did not formally censure the publication under the Code of Practice – as the issue concerned some advertising matter which fell within the remit of other organisations - the Commission did highlight Clause 1 of the Code of Practice. This states that publications ‘must take care not to publish misleading material’. In light of this, and in order that readers are left in no doubt that the articles which constitute ‘advertising support editorial’ are a direct form of advertising, the Commission suggested either that the pages on which such pieces appear could be labelled ‘advertising’, or that an explanation of how ‘advertising support editorial’ operates could be contained within the body of the magazine.
The Commission hoped that such action would ensure there were no further issues of this sort in the future.
The Commission also decided to refer the terms of its adjudication to be referred to the Advertising Standards Authority in order that it is aware of the situation.
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