How Indian newspapers and magazines disguise advertisements as stories

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If it looks like a story, reads like a story, and is combined with several other stories, it must be a story. Law?

Wrong.

It could just as easily be an advertisement, except you wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t pay close attention to it. And that’s really the idea: the ad is presented as a report so you won’t realize that it is indeed an ad.

Ads disguised as news stories are called infomercials in traditional media and native ads in digital media. In both cases, they have made the wall between advertising and editorial staff porous, raising serious ethical questions.

The problem with infomercials is not only that they are disguised as news reports, but often lack easily visible markers, leading the reader to believe that they are reports from journalists.

India today, for example, regularly publishes infomercials disguised to resemble his stories, without important warnings. Instead of being labeled as an infomercial or ad, for example, they are marked with unrelated words such as “Focus”, usually printed in lowercase in a corner of the page, even though “journalistic ownership requirements”, according to the Press Council of India, “that advertisements should be clearly distinguishable from news content in a newspaper”.

The August 2 edition of the weekly published an article for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. The only marker to distinguish it from a story was the word “Focus” at the top of the first page and a general disclaimer on the Content page warning that pages in the magazine titled “Impact Feature” or “Focus” were simply advertising. , that the editorial staff of the magazine did not in any way participate in the creation.

While the font size and style of the disclaimers as well as the text of the infomercials vary a bit from the rest of the magazine, it would take a very demanding reader to realize this.

It is common practice for India today. On July 5, the magazine ran another infomercial praising Adityanath, a six-page author titled “Yogi on Mission Mode to Save Lives and Livelihoods”. It was labeled, again in small print, “Focus, Uttar Pradesh”. This edition was the annual issue of “Comprehensive Educational Guidance” magazine and it was full of infomercials. There was an infomercial on the President of Roots Collegium, Hyderabad, labeled “Focus Education” and one on the SRM Institute labeled “Impact Feature”.

Likewise, the magazine carried out a “Focus Olympics” on Bridgestone, the automotive supplier, in the form of an interview on July 19, and an “Auto Focus” on Volvo Car on June 14.

“The ethics of this are completely gray,” said Karthik Srinivasan, a communications strategy consultant who studies infomercials that cross boundaries. “You’re supposed to be blunt in disclosing that this is paid and is not editorial, but it’s a line most media publications now cross to hide that this is paid advertising. Advertorials are intentionally designed to blend in with the editorial material so that they can benefit from the reliability of the editorial.


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