A decision in the Australian High Court this week has put media organisations on notice that crossing the line between news and advertorial can be costly.
The Australian Seven network’s Today Tonight was found to have breached section 52 of the Trade Practices Act with two segments in 2004 and 2005 on an investment scheme dubbed Wildy Wealthy Women. The court said the network could not rely on section 65A of the act — the so-called publishers’ defence — partly because an “arrangement” with a marketer for WWW showed they were not at arm’s length.
Now what about this?
The High Court ruling in the Today Tonight case attempts to straddle one of the most serious fault lines in the news media – the separation of commercial and public interest. This case turns on the interpretation of “commercial arrangement” between the network and the WWW company.
Chief Justice Robert French and Justice Susan Kiefel said the purpose of section 65A “was to maintain a vigorous free press as well as to maintain an effective and enforceable Trade Practices Act”.
“Information providers are free as part of the function of an independent free press to praise or criticise the providers of goods or services and the quality of what they provide.”
But they said that rationale did not apply “when the publication concerned goods or services the publisher provided, or followed a commercial arrangement”.
[full story from The Australian]
In the commodified media world it is almost impossible to separate commercial interests out of everything the news media does and at a time when media companies are financially under the gun, the tempatation to cross the line and generate a cash-flow from the coverage you provide can be great indeed. It’s even easier in ethically-challenged places like Today Tonight, crossing the line here doesn’t even feel wrong, it feels like commonsense.
Now, EM can’t help wondering if Today Tonight is not still cosying up to pyramid sellers and “get-rich-quick” shysters. A story currently on the TT website is promoting an online money-spinner called Freagle with the catch phrase “Easiest Home Business Ever”. The copy by TT reporter Jonathon Creek [I kid you not] reads very much like some of that Viagra spam that you get from time to time.
Former Policeman Darren Boal is a convert.
He signed onto Freagle’s Easiest Home Business two weeks ago. It costs him $60 a month and so far he’s made $500 using a simple strategy, placing links to products on web pages.
“I didn’t even know how to run a blog page now it’s making me money,” Darren said.
Maintenance worker Mark Galvin is the first to admit he’s no computer expert, but the Easiest Home business is working for him. He’s made $300 in two weeks and growing.
“You’ve got to do the hard yards, do all the work, before it all starts paying off,” Mark adds.
The Freagle system is a modern day version of extreme direct marketing, but using anyone online to target potential buyers.
Actually Freagle sounds a lot like spamming. I have my doubts about Darren Boal and Mark Galvin too. They’re common enough names, but it’s just too, too convenient. They get a mention in the promotional material, but they’re not visible.
The website promoting Today Tonight‘s endorsement of Freagle is also one of those scary “Just give me a minute of your time…” whack-jobs that looks like a 14-year-old designed it. The “arrangement” here is also blatant. If you follow the links from Today Tonight to the Freagle promotion, for a limited time only, you can sign up for a discounted rate.
P.P.S. You’ll be able to get access the system as soon as you have been approved on the freagle platform and you’ll be on your way to hassle-free, step x step training that you can immediately apply to generate extra income! (Please allow up to 48 hours to activate your freagle account due to the anticipated number of people joining the program)
P.P.P.S. This offer will be available for a LIMITED time only. The Program will still be available for purchase once the offer ends, but at a significantly increased price.
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Affiliate Marketing Guru
Perhaps Mr Samuels and the ACCC would like to take a look at this piece of promotional journalism too.
I think we might be lucky in Aotearoa that we don’t yet have any current affairs programmes quite as bad as Today Tonight, but if we dig a little, there’s every chance we might uncover some similar “arrangements” between shonky promoters and our news media.
[hat tip Roarprawn]