Ministry of Controversy

Rules and regs

Over the past week, I’ve learned of two legal developments, both of which I rather agree with, but as with any time the government tries to fix something, there are problematic issues.

Putting out the fires

First, as of October 14, the New York State Department of
Environmental Conservation has banned

ALL leaf and trash fires throughout the state, not just in larger
municipalities. The agency notes particularly the noxious incineration of
household trash in burn barrels, recommending that homeowners instead recycle
and compost as much waste as they can. They also encourage homeowners
throughout the state to compost leaves. Thank you, DEC. 

Will it be enforced? That’s the problem.

Bloggers' swag ruling

The issues with another recent regulation are more
complex. As many of you have read by now, the Federal Trade Commission has ordained that bloggers who review various products and services will have to
clearly disclose that the items were given to them for free by a
clearly-identified vendor.  Here’s
a summary of the 81-page ruling.
All well and good; I have no problem with it in principle and have always tried to make it
clear when I have freebies in hand.

But here’s what bugs me. As has always been the case,
newspaper and magazine reviewers are not required to say that they have
received books or other items for free, because it is assumed (according to interpretations
I’ve seen
) that the items belong to the publication, not the reviewer, and that
the publication has its own regulatory methodology to address freebies. Which
is total BS in the case of most print publications. As a newspaper and magazine
reviewer, I have always had at least the opportunity to keep everything I’ve
written about, whether I actually do or not. Swag, bootie, freebies—whatever
you call it, print journalists everywhere are accustomed to taking it as a
fringe benefit.

Though I hope that in practice common sense will prevail, it
seems odd that the regulatory weight is falling on bloggers, who work for
nothing and have no insurance protection, while those of us in print can
continue to wallow in our endless swagathon. (Believe me, I'm exaggerating.)

But on the whole, disclosure is a good thing. We'll see how it shakes out. Like the leaf fires, enforcement will be—at the very least—problematic.

Posted by on October 6, 2009 at 11:43 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
Comments are off for this post

10 responses to “Rules and regs”

  1. Amy Stewart says:

    yeah, the notion that the publication keeps the freebie is hogwash, especially in this age of far-flung freelancers. When I review a book for a magazine, it comes straight from the publisher and often the magazine tells me I’m free to keep it.

  2. susan harris says:

    Excellent points! Could this obviously unfair and unequal treatment point to the lack of paid lobbyists by the blogosphere?
    Sorry; I’ve worked in Congress too long to NOT see everything in terms of campaign contributions. And yes, I know this was the FTC – I’ve worked there, too – not Congress, but still.

  3. Kudos to NY for banning leaf burning. IL leaves it up to the individual local bodies (no pun intended), and some communities cave to their residents who claim they have to burn as they have too much property and too many trees to bag it all. Hello? Ever heard of a mulching mower, or a shredder, or a leaf vac?
    As for the FTC, it seems that it’s always the weakest party, usually us, whose ox is being gored, while the deep pockets get the preferential treatment. I’m all in favor of disclosure, but I’m not sure this heavy-handed treatment is the way to go about it.

  4. greg draiss says:

    Very similar to the FCC trying enforce the fiarness doctrine on radio but not on television.

    Leave it to the feds to take 81 pages to sum up freebies to bloggers.

    Thing is this rule will affect the print sources soon as well as they are all switching to the web platorm.

    Oh well don’t blame me I voted ofr the real American….

    The TROLL

  5. About the swag ruling, it does seem a bit skewed. It’s almost like the FTC didn’t think about how this would effect bloggers versus magazines and newspapers. I write for all three, and the swag I drag home is reviewed for all three media. I always state that the item was given to me to review, and I try to be fair. I wonder if this ruling was created for those decidedly overdone blogs paid for by advertisers which overdo their high praise of their employer’s product.~~Dee

  6. I’d consider myself as ‘arrived’ if anyone sent me goodies to review. Of course, I’d declare any freebies I happened to receive. It’s only right. So far, any reviews have been for books or products that I’ve bought myself — and like or don’t like. Perhaps I should be declaring *that* so there’s no hint of advertorial?

  7. Disclosure is practicing good journalism ethics.

    While I blog about gardening, my freelance work is usually for travel. Freebies are a HUGE NO-NO without disclosure! I never even tell the hotels/apartments/restaurants/attractions, etc. that I’m writing a story until I’m leaving — or not at all.

    Hmm… I don’t know how many of my readers read my “fine print” section…

    I use the “fine print” at the bottom of my blog for disclosure that a free book was received for all book reviews unless otherwise stated.

    However, I state that any other freebies will be noted at the end of each post.

    I now disclose that clicking ads redirects the user and that cookies may result from the clicks. I think this is now required.

    Of course, there’s more to the fine print!

    Cameron

  8. trey says:

    This is much worse than it appears. Twitter or Facebook that you like a certain store, and it turns out that someone related to you works there, and you don’t disclose it, your bad. It’s not just garden bloggers, but anyone who uses social media.

    And why are magazines and newspapers immune from this? Very strange, and very troubling.

  9. trey says:

    It’s not just swag. What happens when Google Ads puts an automated ad for a company on your blog, like the JC Penny ad you have here? Did you know you are advertising for JC Penny? Have any friends or relatives working there? Have you ever worked there? You do make some money every time that ad is clicked, right?

  10. Finally , some common sense in regards to banning cancer causing polluting fires.
    What is it about a smoke filled atmosphere do people not get ? It’s pollution, it causes health problems and it is generally just unnecessary.

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