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CMM: use of betting agency interviews with winners is concealed advertising

Council for Mass Media in Finland finds national betting agency able to market itself through the media.

The CMM has condemned the practice of the news media publishing stories based on anonymous interviews with lottery and other betting winners as journalism.

The Council was responding to complaints about three articles published by the tabloid Iltalehti about the winners of Veikkaus Ltd’s betting games. Veikkaus, a limited company, is the government-owned national betting agency.

The articles were wholly based on Veikkaus press releases, in which winners are presented anonymously. Iltalehti had not done its own interviews with them.

The CMM considers that using press releases on the winners of various Veikkaus games, the company is marketing its own products and services. By publishing stories about winners without and newsroom input, Iltalehti was allowing itself to be a part of Veikkaus’ marketing.

The CMM stressed that the use of press releases as journalistic sources is normal practice. But publishing anonymous interviews produced for advertising purposes amounts to relinquishing newsroom decision-making powers to a third party, as journalists are not able to decide what questions to ask and what information from the replies to select for publication, and cannot check their veracity.

The Council said that Iltalehti had violated good journalistic practice and issues the paper with a formal notice of its decision. It recognized that similar material is published in other papers, but that only Iltalehti had been subject to a complaint.

But the decision is applicable at a more general level. This concerns how the media should use material based on anonymous interviews and produced for advertising purposes. The CMM said the matter concerned the relinquishing of newsroom decision-making to third parties and concealed advertising.