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NTL incurs wrath following yet another misleading ad

ASA close to losing rag

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NTL has been found guilty of producing misleading advertisements again and the Advertising Standards Authority is very close to losing its rag.

This month's adjudications - published yesterday - featured an incredible four complaints against NTL, covering five ads. All were upheld.

It was guilty on several counts of advertising a service in areas where it wasn't available, hiding smallprint and misleading customers to believe they could access to the Internet on one deal when in fact only certain sites were available.

But worse than all this is the fact that this is the TENTH time NTL has been found guilty of infringing advertising rules in the last 12 months. It has been consistently warned to run its ads through the ASA's Committee of Advertising Practice Copy Advice but a spokeswoman told us that NTL didn't do so in this case. The process in a voluntary one.

As such, the ASA has grown very annoyed with NTL - or "concerned at NTL's poor level of compliance" as it puts it - and is looking at other methods of bringing it in line. A spokeswoman told us that the ASA would be seeking assurances from NTL that it will not break ad rules in future but that it did have other options at hand.

Since the advertising market is self-regulated, the ASA has no judicial powers but it can "alert" media owners not to accept adverts from NTL in future unless they have been through the ASA screening process.

The nuclear option is to report it to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) which can prosecute the company, although the ASA has only taken this option 13 times since 1998.

We called up the OFT to see what it can do. It was already aware of NTL's track record and the latest infringement. A spokesman told us that under an EC directive on misleading advertising, it can take a company to court and order it not to publish similar advertisements again.

This directive only applies to printed material however and does not include TV or radio. It only applies if there is "an economic detriment to consumers". The OFT is not able to impose a fine on any company but if that company were to continue printing banned advertising it would be held in contempt of court.

Before it took that step though, the OFT would "seek voluntary assurances" from a company that it won't repeat such infringements.

Perhaps NTL should just play it straight from now on. ®

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