16 May 2000 – The recommendation of the Independent Television Commission that the rule preventing the presenters of news or current affairs programmes from appearing in advertisements should be relaxed is establishing an extremely dangerous precedent. True, the current proposal would only apply to “persons who only occasionally present [such] programmes”, or regional broadcasters who might be allowed to appear in advertisements shown outside their region. None the less, the threat to journalistic credibility is very real.
The independence and impartiality of presenters is an invaluable asset to British television broadcasting. They are rightly regarded by viewers as being in a position of trust which, given the immense power of the medium, is one which they abuse at their (and our) peril. To suppose that they would enjoy the same status if their faces and/or voices were employed to endorse a commercial product is to fly in the face of reason.
Though the proposed relaxation is limited, and would not apply to regular presenters of rolling news channels, national and local news programmes and current affairs programmes, it remains the thin end of the wedge. How will the ITC define “regular”, and how long before claims of unfair discrimination are made? How would such a regulation fare under Article 10 of the European convention on human rights, guaranteeing freedom of speech?
No doubt advertisers would jump at the chance of employing these famous names and faces, capitalising on their credibility. And no doubt some presenters feel aggrieved at a rule which prevents them making yet more money. Neither is any reason for changing a sensible regulation which has served the public interest well from the very outset of commercial television.
(Bulletin No 17)