When the eponymous Jon made a reference in the Jon Gaunt phone-in chat show to a free trial of remote access software, was this an ad or was it editorial? Ofcom was not impressed but did the broadcaster have an alibi? Stephen Groom dials in to the verdict.
Topic: Branded content
When: February 2008
Law stated as at: 30 April 2008
Communications uber regulator Ofcom hauled in radio station talkSPORT over an edition of the Jon Gaunt Show.
The programme was phone-in current affairs and the edition in question featured a wide range of issues including drug cheats in sport, the Taliban and the appropriate punishment for mutiny.
During the discussion Mr Gaunt mentioned a commercial website that allowed computer users to access remotely their office desktop including emails and files. He referred to a 30 day free trial, encouraging listeners to:
"visit GoToMyPC.co.uk, click the try it free button and use promo code, talkSPORT."
Ofcom's concern was the lack of clarity as to whether this was an advertisement or part of the programme. The relevant Broadcasting Code Rules were as follows:
- 10.2 Broadcasters must ensure that the advertising and programme elements of a service are kept separate
- 10.3 Products and services must not be promoted in programmes.
talkSPORT's "hard hitting" defence
talkSPORT argued that "the clarity and nature of the advertising message within the environment that it was placed" ensured "significant separation" from editorial content. They sought to bolster this argument by emphasising that the programme was a "hard hitting phone-in led environment that carries no sponsor led features…" and that "thus the soft issues of business PC management …do not relate to the editorial nature of the show."
Ofcom considered but rejected this not entirely media babble-free argument. The regulator intoned that "separation of programming and advertising …was one of the basic principles of UK commercial broadcasting."
"Radio advertisements that have a similar style to the programming in which they are placed" it went on "should generally be separated by other material, such as a jingle or station ident….listeners should not be left confused about what they are listening to."
In context, Ofcom felt that the seamless way in which the presenter flowed from one topic into the GoToMyPC promotion and out again did not provide sufficient separation. "The presenter continued to speak in his relaxed, conversational style," the regulator said.. " and pre-recorded advertising took place around 90 seconds later, all of which created the impression that the advertisement was in fact editorial."
Accordingly Ofcom ruled that Rule 10.2 had been breached.
Why this matters:
There has been a growing number of Ofcom adjudications in this vein in recent months. The principle of advertising/editorial separation is key to UK broadcasting regulation and care needs to be taken with product references of this kind.