At what point does a news broadcast end and the advertisements begin? In the UK this is fairly clear, usually the broadcaster will say something along the lines of “back after the break/these adverts”… in America, it can be a narrower border, it is common practice for private companies to sponsor part of the news broadcast, for example “And now with the weather sponsored by [Insert Company Here]…” In Northern Ireland, perhaps this discussion is needed.
The advertising standards agency has adjudicated in the past on cases where an advert is not made clear, and in recent years the “product placement” symbol is being seen more and more on our televisions. But what about the internet? What about our main news sites? Today, UTV hosted under the “Top Stories” section of their news website, a story entitled, “Frank Mitchell ‘glad’ he had laser eye surgery.” From a writing stand point, this is unusual, because the “headline” references “Frank Mitchell” in the third person – the article appears to be written entirely by Frank Mitchell himself, with numerous references to “me,” and “I.”
When you are on the “Top Stories” section of the site, and cast your eyes down from story to story, sandwiched between an article on a car being destroyed as a result of an arson attack and a tragic story of an elderly man who drowned in Wexford, is the “Health” story regarding Frank Mitchell’s eye surgery. And yes, it says “Sponsored” next to health… but is that enough?
UTV have been the subject of the news as well as creators recently, with word spreading that the broadcasting television wing of the business in Northern Ireland is for sale (UTV Media owns other outlets, including Talksport), it also announced last week a 90% drop in pre tax profits.
The top of the article shows the headline, then between the headline and the opening paragraph is the word “Sponsored” in smaller font than the rest of the story text. Assuming you, like myself, tend to jump to reading an actual article instead of the minutiae of the date stamp or the news category, you would find yourself with no clue this is an advert.
And even when you reach the bottom of the article, again, seemingly written by Frank Mitchell himself, in the first person…
The author of the article even offers advice for anyone “wearing specs” to “get it [this procedure] done” – there we have an article on a news website, written be a weatherman actually recommending to readers that they should also pay to have the same medical procedure undertaken upon themselves.
And also it is worth acknowledging that at no point after the “Sponsored – Health – [Article Date]” byline, has it mentioned A: that this is not a news article and is in fact a paid advert but through the medium of a recognisable face to the audience of UTV, one who they might expect to see on this website imparting actual news or information, and B: if the author, Frank Mitchell, received any kind of incentive to write the article. One assumes that UTV have been paid by Optilase for the advert, but the actual author of the article (and recipient of the procedure), what financial exchange between the company and himself exists, does this arrangement leave him in a position of integrity when it comes to recommending people “Wearing specs,” pay for this procedure to be undertaken on themselves?
The advertising standards agency has come down hard in recent years on advertising subterfuge, with the advent of social media the line has been blurred on what an advert is or isn’t. This however, is an advert… masquerading as news, on a news site, written by a recognisable figure from the news.
A cursory search shows that this is the second time this same article has appeared in the “Top Stories” section of UTVs website, back in June was its premiere.
*Authors note – this article was written entirely by myself with no incentive from any other persons or companies – I benefit in no way financially or materially from the publishing of this article. The view is my own, the article is my own.