Weekday morning magazine programme GMTV With Lorraine broke Ofcom's Broadcasting Code by allowing its consumer affairs expert Martin Lewis to continually direct viewers to his own web publishing business for details of deals he discussed.
Lewis appeared as a guest on the programme to advise viewers on consumer issues. On the programme watched by staff of media regulator Ofcom he consistently referred viewers to the GMTV website for details of vouchers, discounts and other deals he was discussing.
The website in turn directed viewers to website Moneysavingexpert.com, which earns money from purchases made through it by users. The site is owned by Lewis.
Rule 10 of the Broadcast Code says: "Products and services must not be promoted in programmes … No undue prominence may be given in any programme to a product or service".
"By inviting viewers to obtain further information and vouchers on the GMTV website, and then re-directing them to Martin Lewis’ commercial website to obtain that information, the programme was effectively promoting his business," said the Ofcom ruling.
GMTV said that Lewis was a normal editorial guest on the programme who was paid for his contribution, and that he did not pay the broadcaster for the exposure his appearance offered for his business.
"GMTV submitted that a reference within the programme to the programme website, which in turn referred the viewer (if they so wished) to moneysavingexpert.com was far less a call to action or commercial reference than references to a retailer as part of any consumer item broadcast by GMTV or another broadcaster," said Ofcom's ruling. "For example, during a fashion item, it is usual for gm.tv to list stockists of clothing that has been shown in the programme."
Ofcom said, though, that this case was different because all the references were to the one supplier of information.
"In the context of a consumer affairs programme, there is clear editorial justification for broadcasters to include details about reviewed items, such as availability and cost: this information is provided in the interest of the viewer," it said. "Ofcom would not generally consider such information to be promotional in this editorial context. However, such references should avoid giving undue prominence to any one particular product, manufacturer or supplier and reviews should not be subject to any commercial agreement with a manufacturer/supplier."
Ofcom was acting on a complaint from a viewer that Lewis was always directing viewers to the website of his business.
Ofcom said that it was relevant that Lewis earned money when users purchased goods or services using links on his site.
The site says that whether a service has an 'affiliate link' which generates payment for it or not does not affect how it is ranked by the website's analysis. Ofcom said that this did not mean that it was not covered by its rules.
"Irrespective of whether or not the site generated revenue as a result of the deals promoted within the programme, Ofcom considers that this third party website is nevertheless a commercial business," it said.