Media Must Be Responsible for Misleading Ads: FTC Chairman

21 November 2002

Timothy Muris, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, this week pointed the finger at America’s cable channels, newspapers and magazines, insisting they take responsibility for any false or misleading health and dietary ads they carry.

Accused Muris: “Reputable publications are running obviously fraudulent advertising, and they should be doing a better job screening them,” adding significantly, “I’m willing to make this a big deal,” and hinting at legal action where necessary.

Sensitive, however, to the constitutional ‘freedom of speech’ defense invoked by most proponents of such ads, Muris attempted to spike their guns: “I don't believe there is a constitutional right to run false ads,” he said.

Since 1990, reported Muris, the FTC has filed 93 court cases challenging weight-loss claims, many involving allegedly deceptive TV ‘infomercials’ and other direct-response ads. “Despite the unprecedented level of FTC enforcement over the last decade, though, misleading and deceptive ads continue to saturate the market.”

Added FTC investigator Janet Evans: “We are seeing more and more of these advertisements, and more channels every month – mainstream channels – leasing infomercials

But the defense was on autopilot: “The notion of requiring newspapers to determine whether every ad they publish is accurate is a troubling one, raising serious constitutional issues,” predictably opined Floyd Abrams, an expert in First Amendment law.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff