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Blur between ads and news content both ‘legal and ethical violation’

By Renad Aljadid - Sep 11,2018 - Last updated at Sep 11,2018

AMMAN — In spite of reading the news on daily basis for nearly 30 years, Hatem Othman said he is still deceived by some headlines of stories that eventually turn out to be advertisements.

“I saw a headline that reads: ‘1000 Jordanian drivers recruited’, thinking it’s a news story about a new project or a governmental initiative, but I found it to be more of a promotion to a particular transport company that is trying to market the expansion of its services,” the 56-year-old reader explained.

Akeed, an online portal dedicated to monitoring the credibility of media in Jordan, said in a recent report that the violations related to mixing promotional content with news content are still observed despite previous warnings by the Jordan Media Commission (JMC).

 

Legal or ethical issue?

 

Osama Rawajfeh, Akeed’s editor-in-chief, said that due to financial issues, some media outlets do not separate advertisements from content, which is both a legal and ethical violation, describing it as “media begging”.

“Article 7 of the Press and Publications Law states that, when publishing  promotional content, media outlets should make it clear that the content is an advertisement,” Rawajfeh told The Jordan Times, noting that this also applies to the promotion of some people’s opinions and ideas through opinion columns or interviews as part of a marketing contract.

The media expert stressed that the articles of the journalistic code of honour include the separation of opinion, advertisements, and news, adding that “the Press and Publications Law stipulates the abidance by the code of honour which makes the journalistic ethics legally binding too”.

He said that the JMC and the complaints committee at the Jordan Press Association (JPA) are authorised to receive complaints in this regard, yet, the JMC said they did not receive any official written complaints, but only verbal references to such practices.

“The complainants can refer to the court directly, and once a judicial order is issued, the commission takes all the necessary legal measures which can entail the closure of the violating media outlet,” JMC Director General Mohammad Qteishat was quoted in Akeed’s report as saying. 

JPA President Rakan Saaideh also said that the association did not receive official complaints, but noted that this does not refute the existence of such practices by some media outlets. 

“This is a ‘cheap’ business that reflects the ignorance of the actual media mission which rejects using media for illicit gains and misleading people,” Saaideh continued, adding that, “paying money for highlighting a particular figure casts doubts over the professionalism of the interviewee himself”.

 

Marketing vs reporting

 

Rawajfeh called for a distinction to be made between reporting events and activities that some large corporations conduct as opposed to the promotion and marketing of their products and services.

“The charity, cultural, or entrepreneurial events that such corporations conduct are part of their social responsibility, which deserves to be covered as this can actually be a motive for other companies to offer similar societal activities,” Rawajfeh explained.

“The problem is when such reports take a promotional direction and this is usually when there are signed agreements or contracts between a business and a media outlet,” he continued.

The media expert noted that such agreements make media outlets less objective or supportive when covering news related to a shortcoming, violation, or complaint against these companies.  

Media literacy: a necessity, not a luxury

Senior adviser at the Jordan Media Institute Bayan Tal stressed the importance of building the public’s critical thinking whereby they should not “believe or accept anything blindly“.

Tal, who is also the director of the media literacy programme, referred to the institute’s efforts in conducting awareness sessions to the various society segments in schools, universities, and the various institutions so as to teach them how to differentiate between news, opinions, and advertisements.

“Media literacy is no longer a luxury but a necessity,” she told The Jordan Times, noting that the programme also entails teaching people how to participate in media safely and ethically.

With the emergence of smartphones, the social media outlets have become an open media outlet, which necessitates raising the people’s awareness of the media professionethics and warning them against practices that violate other people’s privacy and integrity, according to Tal.

“People should be aware of the balanced and objective reporting so they can evaluate the news they read and be able to discover any misinformation,” the media adviser noted, adding that the institute is still conducting the awareness sessions upon request to educational institutions, non-profit and civil society organisations.

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