The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint made against The Herald in Glasgow over a regular column that should be marked as an advertising feature.
The column, titled ‘Professional Brief’, invites firms to write columns about the major news stories in the headlines, on areas in which they are experts.
The Herald said that it made nominal charges to the firms to cover for staff time.
It argued that the columns were sponsored articles rather than advertisements, as the firms were not allowed to mention their professional services.
It added that the paper maintained editorial autonomy over the content. It likened the practice to using freelance writers, because editorial staff suggested stories for the sponsor firms to comment on.
The by-line showed that – although the paper had endorsed the article – the opinions in it were those of the author.
The procedure is that a company offers three articles and the editor then decides which one to publish, based on its newsworthiness.
No guarantee is made by the paper as to when or where the piece might appear.
However, while noting the fact that the paper did have some control over what appeared in the article, the ASA
upheld the claim because the column was written by marketers rather than the publishers.
As Press Gazette went to print, The Herald had not offered its obligatory written assurance to the ASA that it will clearly label such items as advertising features.
A spokeswoman from the ASA said that, if it does not do this, then the authority would have to impose another sanction.
The ultimate action would be to refer the case to the office of Fair Trading, which could prosecute.
However, Tim Blott, managing editor at The Herald, told Press Gazette: that the newspaper did not intend to challenge the adjudication by the ASA.