Govt. Urges Media To Not Run Deceptive Ads

By: Connie Cass, Associated Press Writer

(AP) The government is urging television, newspapers, and magazines to stop carrying deceptive advertising with promises like “eat all you want and lose weight” or “lose weight while you sleep.”

“Reputable media should be embarrassed by some of the ads that run,” Howard Beales, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection bureau, said Wednesday. “The claims are so ridiculous.”

Beales said he believes that publishers and cable TV executives want to cooperate, but if they don’t, regulators could consider legal action.

The FTC has brought 97 lawsuits since 1990 against companies it accused of marketing phony weight-loss products, winning $50 million in restitution to consumers and other financial remedies. The law also prohibits disseminating false ads, Beales said, suggesting that provision could be used against the media should the FTC decide it was necessary.

“We don’t think there is a constitutional impediment to trying to stop false advertising, whatever it takes to do that,” he said.

FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris has been meeting with media industry leaders to encourage self-regulation, saying that law enforcement can’t keep up with the growing number of phony weight-loss schemes — many run by people outside the United States or hiding behind aliases or middlemen.

The FTC plans to come up with a short list of weight-loss claims that clearly don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, in hopes that media executives will ban ads and infomercials that make those promises.

John Kimball, chief marketing officer of the Newspaper Association of America, said a list of false claims to avoid would be helpful to newspapers that run thousands of ads per day, with no practical way to screen them all for accuracy.

But the government should remember “that the decision to run advertising or not run advertising rests at the feet of the publisher,” Kimball said.

Muris praised the major broadcast TV networks for strong screening practices, but acknowledged that most media outlets can’t meet that standard.

“We are talking about screening out the most egregious examples — weight-loss earrings or shoe insoles, pills that tell consumers they can eat whatever they want and still lose weight, and products that make physically implausible promises like ‘lose 30 pounds in 30 days,'” the chairman told media representatives at a meeting Tuesday.

Joe Ostrow, president of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, said the industry already has voluntary guidelines, but the cable channels “have individual sets of operating standards and philosophies.”

“We look forward to doing whatever seems to make sense” to curb deceptive advertising, Ostrow said.

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