ITC raps Fox News tomato broadcast for product plug

Fox News has been censured by the Independent Television Commission after a bulletin gave “undue prominence” to a commercial product, writes Wale Azeez.

The US-based broadcaster, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch and available in the UK via Sky, was rapped following a complaint about a four-minute item about the many uses of tomatoes.

Broadcast in August, it was found to have focused on one particular brand of the tomatoes, the US-based Burpee.

The item in question was entirely about the Burpee company and its products, and revolved around an interview with the owner of the company.

The Burpee name was mentioned 16 times during the broadcast, and Burpee products were displayed prominently on a table, with a number of identity cards printed with the name.

The company’s website was also displayed on a caption, uninterrupted, for two-and-a-half minutes.

The viewer complained that the item had been no more than an extended “plug” for Burpee, which amounted to undue prominence for commercial products and a breach of section 8.4 of the ITC’s programme code.

The code states that “no undue prominence may be given in any programme to a commercial product or service. In particular, any reference to such a product or service must be limited to what can clearly be justified by the editorial requirements of the programme itself.”

Fox News insisted the inclusion of the products was editorially justified in an item that was about “the general topic of tomatoes, and not about Burpee’s products in particular”.

While no further action was taken by the ITC, the regulator pointed out that giving commercial products such prominence was unacceptable under UK broadcasting rules.

Rules on prominent product placement are less stringent in the US.

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