Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Times - haven for dubious adverts

Dear Sunday Times internal ombudsman Joe Latakgomo,
         Two years ago the story I instigated was headed Taking a stand on unsavoury adverts. That was written by your predecessor Thabo Leshilo, who disappeared with out a trace earlier this year.
         It arose after I complained that this paper, South Africa’s largest weekly with over 3-million readers, was carrying suspect get-rich-quick ads that could easily result in unsuspecting investors losing a fortune.
In the story Leshilo wrote, he said that adverts like the rest of the paper should be believable.
But the headline certainly wasn’t because far from taking a stand, the paper continued to accept this type of adverting in spite of my continuous campaign to get it stopped.
Unfortunately I didn’t keep a copy of the article and it was nowhere to be found when the Press Council’s deputy ombudsman Dr Johan Retief asked for it.
Stranger still Leshilo told him that he didn't know what I was talking about.
The latest in the saga is another story, once again instigated by my complaints. This time it was your handiwork and was headed Beware of dubious adverting claims.
          As you rightly said, Such advertising erodes the public’s trust in newspapers. But, even more critical, false advertising, or advertising that makes claims which are patently exaggerated, impacts on consumer confidence.
       That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to tell your Avusa Group (Sunday Times, The Times, Sowetan, etc) for these many months. But from what you wrote your Group is still refusing to listen.
         It is happy to sit back and passed the buck to the Advertising Standards Authority, which has the job of policing adverts, although as far as I know it doesn’t go looking for trouble. It only deals with complaints. So as your papers can’t do anything decisive about these ads I have just submitted my own complaints to that body.
         The really pathetic part about the whole issue is that it is the Sunday Times and other papers in your Group that are publishing this reprehensible stuff that erodes the public trust in newspapers and not the Advertising Authority.
So if they had any morality at all they would put their own house in order and stop making excuses.
         What’s the point in punting the Sunday Time’s consumer watchdog, Megan Power in whole page adverts all over the place, if your own papers are making it easy for dodgy, get-rich-quick schemes to be promoted to a vast audience.
         In the same edition of the Sunday Times in which your story appeared mentioning my complaint there was an ad telling us we could earn R25 000 per month for an investment of just R100 000 with a money back guarantee. And best of all this fantastic return involves, No work. No effort. No Hassles. 
I challenger you, or any member of Avusa’s staff, to take up  this offer, and tell me how their investment is progressing in a year’s time.
You seem to think that by publishing a WARNING to readers to be careful about making investments this absolves your papers from any blame if somebody loses their shirt in one of these schemes.
Clearly they are not a bit bothered about eroding public trust in newspapers and it is this kind of attitude that sunk the News of the World.
What makes this even more inexplicable is that you say that this type of advertising forms only a small part of the total advertising revue. So why do the papers stubbornly hang on to something that can only damage their reputations?
We will continue as journalists to expose those who cheat and lie to our readers, those who compromise our integrity and damage our credibility as news sources for our readers, you wrote.
We are distressed by the number of scams that infiltrate our pages and cheat our readers. If that’s the case have you stopped to think who is aiding and abetting them?
You, or the Royal We, are so distressed that I wonder how many of these dicey schemes that have been advertised in the Sunday Times and other papers in your group have ever been investigated by a reporter.
My guess is: absolutely none in the last two years since I have been monitoring the situation.
Yours watchfully,
Jon, The Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman.

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