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Paid advertising has to be marked as such

NBC’s Tampa-based TV affiliate WFLA, like most stations, has a popular morning show. Viewers may enjoy the playful banter over coffee that is presented on the show Daytime, but what they may not know is that some of the segments are paid advertising.

The Washington Post quoted David Morgan, a staff member of the morning show as saying, “You pay us and we do what you want us to do.” Morgan also named the going rate for such a segment as “2,500 bucks for four to six minutes.”

The Post also pointed out that the only way viewers can see which segments are paid for is a four second display of small print in the credits.

Questioned about the ethical ramifications of this procedure, Eric Land, WFLA’s president and general manager said, “It’s not a news program, nor is it operated by the news department. It’s a separate entertainment program.”

They might think so, and the companies spending thousands of dollars definitely would agree, but as long as there is no clear way for viewers to know that Daytime is clearly biased in its presentation, the show walks on shaky ground. To say it is misleading would be an understatement.

The word of news outlets, be it TV, radio or print media, still carries weight and trust with viewers. To editorialize so heavily and endorse products without any clear warning that the segment is paid for by the company whose products are presented exploits this trust and in the long run, undermines it.

Even shows that do not pick their guests based on paid fees will lose the respect and trust of viewers if some shows operate based on these principles.

It is very important to know if a news source is objective, and if it isn’t, who is paying for it, in order to evaluate how trustworthy the information presented is. Without the viewer knowing who is picking up the tab for the segments this cannot be done adequately.