Most people working in the media will have heard of the recent update to US FCC Guidelines Governing Endorsements, Testimonials to make sure payments or free products given to Influencers/Journalists/Bloggers are fully disclosed
I’d like to comment on a specific part of these new guidelines:
“The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed.
Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”
It’s important to note that these new FCC guidelines apply to websites under US jurisdiction.
In a FastCompany article analyising the new FCC guidelines Brian Lam (editorial director of Gizmodo) made an interesting point questioning why bloggers had been singled out when disclosure of conflicts of interest is an issue for all types of media:
“Some colleagues of mine just reminded me of how many freelance pro journalists take junkets. In the end, I’m glad these rules are being introduced, but it’s kind of stupid to attach unethical behavior to a particular publishing medium. Look at how sh*tty TV journalism can be, by and large.”
Richard Cleland, assistant director, division of advertising practices at the FTC agreed with Lam:
“It’s not the medium, it’s the message. We want to establish a self-imposed ethical standard so people are aware of the conflicts of interest”.
To the best of my knowledge the nearest equivalent law in Australia would be the ACCC’s prohibition against misleading & deceptive conduct by business.
This is the relevant excerpt from the ACCC’s description of misleading & deceptive conduct:
“No matter how a business communicates with you – whether it is through packaging, advertising, logos, endorsements or sales pitch – you have the right to receive accurate and truthful messages about the goods and services that you buy.
There is a very broad provision in the Trade Practices Act that prohibits conduct by a corporation that is misleading or deceptive, or would be likely to mislead or deceive you.
It makes no difference whether the business intended to mislead or deceive you – it is how the conduct of the business affected your thoughts and beliefs that matters.”
Personal Viewpoint re: Conflicts or Interest
Jurisdictional issues and whether these laws are realistically enforceable aside, I operate my sites as honestly as possible, the same way I deal with people in real life and hope they deal with me.
When PR companies send me free tickets to review events or technology products on short/long term loans I make sure that this is clearly disclosed towards the top of resulting articles and not hidden in small text at the bottom.
Here are some real world examples:
Samsung Galaxy review: “I recently attended the launch of 5 new Samsung touchscreen mobile smartphones including the new Samsung Galaxy Icon (I7500) Google Android phone and they’ve loaned me a review phone for a few weeks for testing”
Kodak ZX1 review: “I recently went on a 1 week holiday to Charlotte Pass Ski Resort in Australia’s Snowy Mountains and took a media loan Kodak ZX1 HD pocket video camera with me.”
Also when mentioning media loan products in tweets I try and fit disclosures into the 140char limit wherever relevant. For example these examples from last week:
@neerav: @DDsD @fridley @jodiem yes the new firmware on my media loan Galaxy has hugely improved battery life. its the cheapest at $550 but not fancy
@neerav: @qftravelinsider re: that floriade photo, I was using a media loan Canon SX20is ultrazoom camera on super macro mode
I asked some friends to comment about the disclosure of payment or free products given to Influencers/ Journalists/Bloggers:
Laurel Papworth aka @SilkCharm (Australian Blogger & Social Network/Online Community Strategist)
This “journalists have ethics” is boring. Try telling top bloggers making 100k or $2.5m a year that they “aren’t accountable”
*Amused* some people think that bloggers aren’t “accountable”. Anyone with even one reader most definitely is…
Do you think I, as a blogger, can risk poor research and incorrect advice? Wouldn’t that affect my reputation? Makes me accountable?
Julie Posetti aka @julie_posetti (Lecturer in Journalism at University of Canberra/freelance journalist):
I think @silkcharm makes a good pt. I believe the FCC laws should equally apply to pro-js [journalists]. Level playing field 4 transparency = fair
To an ABC-trained reporter where ethics R enforced & there R strict rules about receiving gifts/favours, junket j[ournali]sm is objectionable
US journalists can’t claim prof[essional]/ethical high ground if they’re not subject to the same levels of transparency demanded of bloggers.
But in the interests of freedom of expression, I’d ultimately prefer it if laws were unnecessary & transparency was self-regulated
I have one rule. It’s a biggie. Even if I get free stuff, I don’t let it influence me. I’m not going to lie about my review.
So I’m unsure whether saying “I got such & such for free” is needed. I’ll probably end up giving it to a family member, to be honest
Now payment I’ve never had to deal with from a company. Naturally if there’s a conflict, it should be declared.
“I think [it] full disclosure adds credibility”
What do you think about the level of disclosure for Payment or Free products given to Influencers/Journalists/Bloggers in Australia?
Is transparency the new objectivity as David Weinberger suggests?