Ofcom has found ITV in breach of its code for allowing TV personality Amanda Holden to promote QualitySolicitors (QS) on the day she launched its tie-up with WH Smith.
The broadcast regulator said the network had broken the rules on promoting services and on giving them undue prominence in programming.
Ms Holden caused outrage among some solicitors after an appearance on weekday morning programme This Morning, which was mainly to promote her roles in Shrek The Musical and Britain’s Got Talent.
Asked towards the end of the interview what else she was doing, she discussed her role with QS, described its firms as “solicitors who are kosher, who are not going to rip you off”, and wrongly suggested the brand had Law Society approval by saying member firms had been chosen by the “governing body for solicitors”.
ITV broadcast a correction the following week after a complaint from the Law Society.
After Ofcom launched an investigation, ITV argued that the references to QS were editorially justified, as it considered that Ms Holden’s recent involvement with the organisation “was of interest to viewers”.
The broadcaster said it had ceded no editorial control as to how or for exactly how long QS would be discussed, and that “from the outset the production team had made it clear to Ms Holden’s management that her role with QualitySolicitors was going to be only one of several topics discussed and that any reference to it would be brief”.
It also considered that her comments “were not overly promotional or presented in such a way that made them unduly prominent”.
In its decision, Ofcom acknowledged that This Morning viewers “are clearly likely to have an interest in the life and work of celebrity guests”.
But it continued: “Where a guest has some form of involvement or arrangement with a commercial product or service, particularly where there appears to be no particular link to their profession or experience, there may be less editorial justification for interviews to feature these topics in detail.”
The regulator found that because QS’s “area of business had no obvious link to her entertainment career, there appeared to be insufficient editorial justification for the extent of the discussion of it in the interview. In particular, we considered Ms Holden gave the impression that a key part of the purpose of her interview was to discuss QualitySolicitors”.
It was also critical of one of the presenters appearing to endorse QS.
Ofcom found ITV in breach of rules 9.4 and 9.5 of its code but issued no sanction beyond publishing its decision, which is the lowest level of penalty. It also welcomed the fact that ITV is currently providing compliance training refreshers to production teams of live programming across its network.
QS chief executive Craig Holt said: “We are, of course, delighted that Amanda Holden, ITV and the This Morning presenters felt the benefits of using QualitySolicitors were such as to be worthy of sharing with their viewers. We are sorry to hear that Ofcom felt their enthusiasm for QS amounted to a breach of the rules surrounding endorsements.”