Despite law against it, stealth commercials frequently masquerade as TV news

From The Washington Post:

By ,
Published: December 6, 2011

Alison Rhodes is passionate about child safety, and in hundreds of TV news interviews, the self-styled “Safety Mom” has talked up products designed to increase it. During a segment on WTTG’s morning news last year, for example, Rhodes showed off a home electronic monitor made by ADT and a backpack with a built-in alarm known as the iSafe bag.It’s amazing,” she gushed to Fox5 host Tony Perkins about the backpack. “It really is amazing.”

What neither Rhodes nor WTTG mentioned to viewers was this: The companies Rhodes mentioned on the air had paid her to plug their products. In effect, Rhodes’s appearance was a kind of stealth commercial dressed up as a traditional product-review interview.

Such product-friendly segments aren’t just potentially deceptive; they’re illegal, under a federal law that prohibits “payola” or “plugola,” as the practice is commonly known. Yet similar types of segments have grown as TV stations have expanded their early-morning newscasts over the past decade, packing them with “expert” reviews. And they are especially rife during the holiday gift-giving season.

Rhodes is one of a small army of hosts and reviewers of fashion, toys, electronic gadgets and other consumer-oriented topics who pop up on morning news shows with advice about what to buy. The advice almost always involves products from companies that have paid the expert to slip in a few favorable words. The disclosures about this arrangement can range from minimal to nonexistent.

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