NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Constitutional Question: Can Ftc Hold Media Responsible For False Diet Ads?

November 20, 2002

Timothy Muris, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, wants cable channels, newspapers and magazines to reject false and misleading diet and health advertising -- and he's making veiled threats of legal action if they don't.

  • The agency enforces federal false-advertising rules and is responding to consumer complaints involving allegedly deceptive television "infomercials" and other direct-response advertising.
  • Since 1990, the agency has filed 93 court cases challenging weight-loss claims.

"Products that promise quick and easy weight loss are bogus," the FTC says on its Web site. "There are no miracle weight-loss products," it adds.

  • The trade group, Magazine Publishers of America, says it is "very concerned about the First Amendment implications" but is still weighing how it should respond.
  • Muris says he would prefer more self-regulation by the media -- bringing suits only if that failed.

While acknowledging that this effort could raise concerns about free-speech protections, Muris said, "I don't believe there is a constitutional right to run false ads."

The agency has been holding workshops on such ads recently.

Source: John R. Wilke, "FTC Wants to Hold the Media Responsible for False Diet Ads," Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2002.


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