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Group Legal Action Has Produced Important Changes In Advertising

By Author: Arsenalo
Total Articles: 116

Group legal action also has produced important changes in advertising. A group of students calling itself SOUP (Students Opposing Unfair Practices) deserves credit for paving the way for the FTC's use of corrective advertising. In 1969, the students tried to intervene in the FTC case against Campbell Soup. Campbell's advertisers had placed marbles in the bottom of soup bowls to Breitling Replica accentuate the solid ingredients in the soup. The students argued that a consent order that would stop the practice was insufficient to remedy the impression created by the false ads. The students proposed corrective advertising instead.

Although the FTC did not impose corrective advertising to resolve the case, it did acknowledge that it had the right to do so if a case warranted such action. The impact of SOUP testifies to the power of groups that understand the regulatory process. SOUP's understanding of this process enabled it, a group otherwise powerless and underfinanced, to bring about a major change in advertising.

Group action often is more effective than individual action, but group action generally requires specialized legal expertise and the resources to support it. Groups with these advantages are better able to establish that they have standing before the FCC. In the case of the FTC, where standing is not a prerequisite for consideration of a com-plaint, individual action is possible. But even here the ability of a group to establish that it represents substantial sentiment in the community is more compelling than a comparable claim by an individual.

Group legal action is not effective in influencing the press except in the area of advertising. The press is not licensed and has important First Amendment protections from government interference. Nongovernmental legal action against the print media is limited almost entirely to the enforcement of the libel laws. In extreme cases, such as the suit brought by Carol Burnett against the National Enquirer, this avenue can be very effective; the financial judgment against the tabloid in this case was large. The National Enquirer also lost a lawsuit filed by actor Clint Eastwood over a supposed "exclusive interview" with Eastwood that the court concluded had never taken place.

To the consternation of some, ABC News in 1995 agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds in response to lawsuits brought by the tobacco companies over allegations made on ABC's Day One that cigarette were "spiked" with added nicotine in the manufacturing process. In what the New York Times called "an extraordinary act of contrition," ABC News agreed to apologize twice during prime time as well as to pay legal expenses, estimated Breitling Replica Watches to be near $3 million. Said ABC senior vice president Patricia. Matson, "There was a mistake. We corrected it."10The role of legal action in influencing the news is discussed in Chapter 4.

Those bringing action against a business or government make themselves vulnerable to the possibility of libel suits, however. In Suffolk County, New York, in 1986, several individuals and civic organizations ran an ad in a local paper objecting to the plans of a real estate developer. They also produced a leaflet and a flier telling citizens to attend a hearing at the town meeting. When the town board rejected the developer's plans, the real estate concern brought suit against nine civic organizations and sixteen individuals. University of Denver law professor George Pring notes that such suits are not usually brought with the aim of winning damages. Rather, they are intended to deter such actions in the future.

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