|NEW YORK - October 27 - The Center for Justice & Democracy, a New York-based consumer rights organization, filed a complaint today with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that airlines are concealing paid corporate advertising on in-flight audio public affairs shows.
According to the complaint, signed by CJ&D Legal Director Geoff Boehm, these shows appear to be independent business news and public educational programming but are, in fact, essentially paid advertisements as individuals are required to pay significant fees
to be selected as guests. By failing to disclose such payment arrangements and failing to identify the programs as advertising, Sky Radio Network [the shows producers and]
the airlines deceive listeners into believing that they are hearing independent programming with the most informed opinion-makers on a controversial political or business topic, whereas the ability of guests to pay a significant fee is actually determinative of whether they are selected to present their pitch to potentially millions of listeners.
CJ&D Advisory Board member Michael Moore, Oscar-winning filmmaker and best-selling author, said, Who knew that news audio programs on airlines were nothing more than another chance for rich corporate honchos to exploit and manipulate the public? I had no idea. And I hope the Center for Justice & Democracy succeeds. I fly a lot, and I think I share the publics view that the last thing we want is to be covertly manipulated by programming passing itself off as news, when its really just corporate advertising.
CJ&D filed the complaint after Sky Radio Network approached Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, about being a guest on an episode of the Forbes Business Report, which would play throughout January 2004 on all American Airlines flights. The topic was the controversial issue of tort reform, a topic on which Ms. Doroshow is an expert from a consumer rights standpoint. A number of pro-tort reform guests from the corporate world had already been lined up for the show. Ms. Doroshow agreed to be on the program, at which time Sky Radio disclosed she would have to pay a fee of $5,900 to appear. Ms. Doroshow refused.
The public has a right to know that these programs are not fair and balanced presentations of controversial political topics, but rather are advertising vehicles for corporate America. Right now, listeners on airlines are deceived into believing they are hearing from the most informed guests possible, when in fact, programming is limited to guests who can afford to pay. Public interest groups like ours are completely priced out. We hope the FTC takes appropriate steps to remedy this situation.
The complaint asks the FTC to investigate this matter, enjoin the companies from engaging in the deceptive practice of presenting paid-for programming as if it were independent, and require clear and conspicuous explanation and disclosure within the audio programming and accompanying print materials.