Did Express Health Lottery splash breach ASA code?

An irate journalism academic is complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority over yesterday’s Daily Express front page story about the new Health Lottery being launched by the paper’s owner Richard Desmond.

Yesterday the Daily Express front page carried the headline: ‘NEW LOTTERY TO MAKE BRITAIN BETTER’about the lottery which is set to raise £50m a year for health-related charities.

Sister title the Daily Star also covered the story on the front page under the headline: ‘£50m LOTTO TONIC FOR BRITAIN”.

Philip Cowan, a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Hertfordshire, believes the stories may break the ASA code. It states: ‘Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications; for example, by heading them ‘advertisement feature’.”

Cowan said: ‘Wednesday’s article in the Daily Express is clearly an abuse of Northern & Shell’s power, as an owner of both this new lottery and the national newspaper. There can be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the Daily Express is being used to promote the lottery.

‘It is frankly shocking that a national institution, which is relied upon by its readers to provide the most important news and current affairs each day, should be used to peddle lottery tickets in such a brazen fashion.

‘Firstly, this article should have been clearly marked up as an advertorial. It contains no references to the criticisms that have been made of the new lottery. For example, Sir Stephen Bubb of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations has criticised the amount it will donate to charities (20.34p per £1 as compared to 28p by the National Lottery).

‘Without any recognition of these concerns the article is pure PR and readers have a right to know this.

‘My other concern is the misleading way Northern & Shell is referred to in the article. It says: ‘The Health Lottery is backed by Northern & Shell, which owns the Daily Express and Channel 5.’

‘The lottery is not ‘backed’ by Richard Desmond, it is owned by him. I am not aware of any other shareholders.

‘Those of us who care about journalism and its place in a democratic society should loudly condemn this disgraceful behaviour. We need to ask: should one man be allowed to use a national daily newspaper as his own public relations plaything?”

Express Newspapers declined to comment.

Press Gazette understands that Northern and Shell insiders argue that news of a new lottery which will give £50m a year to good causes was a worthy story to put on the front page and in the public interest. The fact that it was on the front page partly reflects the news agenda on the day, insiders argue.

Company sources are also understood to have dismissed criticism of the Desmond health lottery, claiming that it will give a greater proportion of its proceeds to charity than the National Lottery which gives a significant of amount of its money to non-charity causes such as the Olympics.

  • To contact the Press Gazette news desk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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