ITC imposes £100k penalty for breach of sponsorship code

Last Friday (27 July 2001), The Independent Television Commission (ITC) announced that it had fined London Weekend Television £100,000 for breaches of the ITC Code of Programme Sponsorship in relation to the ITV series, Club@vision.

Club@vision was aimed at young people and included features on music, clubs and celebrities.  The ITC received a complaint in February 2000 that clubs were being invited to pay a fee and to contribute to production expenses (ranging from £500 upwards) to be included in the series.  Although some clubs appearing in the series did not pay a fee, the ITC’s investigation failed to find a single incident of a club willing to pay a fee which did not appear in the series.  A substantial number of clubs also apparently believed that payment of fees and/or expenses was necessary for inclusion in the series.

Section 15.1 of the ITC Code of Programme Sponsorship states that:

Product Placement is defined as the inclusion of, or a reference to, a product or service within a programme in return for payment or other valuable consideration to the programme-maker or ITC licensee (or any representative or associate of either).  This is not allowed.

The ITC found that Section 15.1 had been breached and that the selection of clubs to appear in the programme was influenced by the paying of fees and/or expenses to a promoter working on behalf of the production company.  In the ITC’s view, the promoter was deemed to be a representative or associate of the programme maker and the inclusion of the clubs constituted product placement.

Even though the ITC did not say that the production company was aware of the promoter’s conduct, the selection of clubs to appear in the series was influenced by the payment of fees to the promoter and this compromised the editorial judgment of the production company.  Given the serious and long-running nature of the breach and the importance of protecting the editorial integrity of programmes from commercial influence, a fine of £100,000 was deemed appropriate.

This decision illustrates that even where programmes are not themselves sponsored in the conventional sense of the term, producers should take care not to include commercial references to goods or services where editorial integrity may be compromised.

Producers should ensure that programmes which are subject to the jurisdiction of the ITC adhere not only to the ITC Programme Code, but also to the ITC Code of Programme Sponsorship and the ITC Code of Advertising Standards and Practice. The Simkins Partnership is happy to advise on all aspects of the ITC codes.  Further information is available on the ITC website: www.itc.org.uk.

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