Press Council reprimands Ringier publications for surreptitious advertising

The Press Council has reprimanded the online platform and the Ringier Group's magazine Schweizer Illustrierte for failing to separate paid and editorial content. The magazine published a series paid for by farmers without disclosing this. The online platform ran voting propaganda without labelling it as advertising.

The case concerned an article in the run-up to the 7 March vote on electronic identity. As the Press Council noted on Friday, the reference to "in cooperation with ..." is not sufficient because the article was published in the usual appearance.

Thus, the voting propaganda of the Digital Switzerland business association did not sufficiently stand out from the editorial content. The reference was also easy to read over, so that the article was not clearly declared as advertising.

Only the third and final version met the requirements, as the Press Council writes. The clear sentence stating that it was political advertising with the author's line "This is a paid contribution, presented by ..." created the necessary transparency.

Surreptitious advertising for farmers

Also the Swiss Illustrated violated the requirement to separate paid and editorial content. Between April and June 2020, the magazine published a four-part series of reports on farms as part of the "Mehr Schweiz im Teller" campaign.

This was financed by Agro-Marketing Suisse, the marketing company of the farmers' organisations. According to the Press Council, the financing was not disclosed. The first report stated that it had been produced in collaboration with Swiss farmers.

Only in the last article, however, did it say "in collaboration with Agro-Marketing Suisse and the Swiss Farmers' Union", which according to the reprimand is not enough. To ensure that readers are not misled, the collaboration must be clearly declared as commercial and paid in each individual article.

Concerns about Native Advertising

The Council also recalled that the obligation to label advertising also applies to social media. For example, it found the reference "sponsored" on a Facebook page to be insufficient. Instead, the Press Council recommends the clear labelling "Paid advertising partnership".

In general, the Press Council is concerned about the spread of so-called native advertising, i.e. advertising in the "familiar environment" of a publication that hardly differs from the editorial content. Newspaper publishers are under pressure to generate advertising revenue.

But commercial articles in the guise of editorial copy would do them a disservice. They show "a lack of respect for the readership and undermine the credibility of journalism," the council writes. (SDA)

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