Ofcom recently investigated complaints over whether an interview with a Virgin Holidays rep in its interactive ‘Married in the Morning’ show was shall we say more than editorial.
Topic: Branded content
When: January 2007
GMTV ran an interactive programme called Married in the Morning in the summer of 2006. Viewers of the programme were able to select the couple and arrange their wedding. The winning couple were to have their wedding in Mauritius. On 31 August 2006, during a live broadcast, the GMTV presenter interviewed a representative from Virgin Holidays. As part of her response the Virgin Holiday rep stated the following:
"Virgin Holidays is able to offer a great selection of holidays from here to Mauritius. We're also able to pre-book all of your wedding packages and we're thrilled that, as of next year, Virgin Atlantic will be flying here direct".
As a result, Ofcom asked for GMTV's comments on the following two rules of the Broadcasting Code:
Rule 10.3 – no promotion of products and services within programmes; and
Rule 10.4 – no undue prominence to products and services within programmes.
Ofcom also enquired about the details of the arrangements between GMTV and Virgin Holidays.
GMTV provided Ofcom with a copy of its agreement with Virgin Holidays, under which Virgin Holidays agreed to provide the holiday package for the programme, however, the agreement did not obligate GMTV to give any related credits to Virgin Holidays. GMTV explained that it did, at its sole discretion, provide links and information regarding Virgin Holidays on the GMTV website.
We understand that GMTV had decided to interview the representative of Virgin Holidays in response to the large viewer interest it had received regarding Mauritius, as a holiday destination. According to GMTV, the Virgin rep had been instructed not to mention any of Virgin's services. Despite this, however, the representative made the statements above, promoting Virgin Holidays. GMTV explained that it ended the interview as soon as it could and went on to remind its producers of the dangers of undue prominence. Nonetheless, GMTV accepted that the rep's statements did result in undue prominence to Virgin Holidays but explained that this was entirely unintentional on GMTV's part.
Ofcom was satisfied that there were no financial arrangements in place between GMTV and Virgin Holidays that influenced the editorial decisions relating to the programme. Ofcom did, however, express the view that, as the company had provided products and services of significant value, this was likely to lead to the impression that Virgin Holidays had, in fact, had an inappropriate level influence over the content of the programme.
As GMTV had a) acknowledged that the Virgin rep's statements promoting Virgin Holidays had breached the Broadcasting Code; and b) taken remedial action, Ofcom considered this matter resolved.
Why this matters:
Ofcom has demonstrated that it is keeping an eye out for incidents of undue prominence. Fortunately, in this case, GMTV was able to show that its agreements with Virgin Holidays did not contain any obligation on the part of GMTV to provide on-screen publicity to Virgin Holidays in return for the services it had provided to GMTV.