Editorials - Broadcasting & Cable

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Shedding Unwanted Diet Claims

Several weeks back, the FTC announced that it is cracking down on deceptive marketing for diets and nutritional supplements. Anyone who has watched late-night cable or listened to the radio knows that, as with so many other products, TV and radio are the media of choice for the Svengalis of pseudo-slim.

As a result, the FTC is enlisting the electronic media in its new crackdown on patently false and misleading claims by encouraging them to better identify and screen out such ads. Although we frequently run the other direction when the government starts talking about partnering up, we think that is a good idea. Particularly if the broadcaster testimonials for Body Solutions are any indication.

The product, a diet drink whose producer went belly up a couple of months back, claimed to take off pounds while permitting its consumers to scarf down unlimited amounts of "pizza, beer, tacos, nachos, cheese grits and donuts." In fact, the following is one of the dozens of testimonials by DJs that the FTC cited in a complaint filed against the company last week: "I could go for a nice sausage biscuit with a side order of cheese grits and a couple of strips of Jimmy's famous bacon. ... I don't get to eat breakfast like this every day. But, thanks to Body Solutions lose-weight-while-you-sleep formula, I can have my bacon, sausage and grits, and still lose weight."

The FTC did not cite DJs or stations in its complaint or suggest that they had violated the law. That's in part because it is more interested in enlisting broadcasters' help in its new vigilance campaign than in punishing them for possible past transgressions, although an FTC attorney pointed out that the complaint is public record and the FCC free to peruse it. The FTC also cited a placebo effect that could account for DJ weight losses. OK, that's conceivable, but it sounds rather like broadcasters are getting more slack on the issue than can be found in the waistbands of all those ostensibly pound-shedding DJs.

Broadcasters should probably consider themselves lucky and definitely consider working with the FTC to better identify misleading claims.

Preserving the Flag

CBS has threatened to pull the plug on its HDTV broadcasts next season unless "broadcast flag" copy-protection technology is adopted to protect that and other DTV fare. We don't blame CBS. Broadcasters and their Hollywood allies need to protect content from easy duplication in the digital world, consumer-electronics companies' fair-use protestations notwithstanding. The stories of movies ripped off and digitally replicated exponentially are legion, and there is some pirate history that should give pause to those not already concerned. According to good authority, in the early '80s, there was a thriving business in movie knockoffs in the shadow of the Capitol. The source: The Library of Congress, where a building mechanic was intercepting tapes and making bulk copies to peddle on the streets.

Count us defenders of the flag.

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