“Earn up to 10K a month, guaranteed!”

Carmel Morgan and I have been working an article looking at the effects of reduced support for arts critics. One of the issues we face in producing a worthwhile piece of journalism is documenting the impact that critics have on the success or failure of art/artists. We cant report on the negative impact of loss of support without documenting the importance of critics to the public/the arts.

One way I am looking into documenting the impact of critics is looking at how their words are protected. The fact that critic’s words are protected does make clear the importance of their words to the entertainment industry.

The European Union passed a Council Directive last year(EU Council Directive 84/450/EEC )that regulates misleading and comparative advertising in the European Union.

Reporting on the new law, the UK based Independent stated,

“The curtain is about to come down on theatres that misquote reviewers on billboards or in other advertising, thanks to an EU directive which will outlaw misleading publicity.

The legislation, which will come into force in December, will make it illegal to extract a positive word or phrase from a theatre review if that paints a misleading picture of the article as a whole. Lawyers are already warning that producers will have to be more careful in the future when using selective quotes in publicity material.”

You can read the whole article here.

According to a Hong Kong Trade Union Report about the new regulation,

“Misleading advertising is conceived as any advertising which, in any way, either in its wording or presentation deceives or is likely to deceive the persons to whom it is addressed or whom it reaches, which by reason of its deceptive nature, is likely to affect their economic behaviour..”

The Uk-Based Telegraph noted in a story about the regulation,

“Critics say the practice of placing selective quotes from reviews outside venues or in programmes is “a running joke” within the industry. They say such misquoting is common, and cited several examples of quotes being cherry-picked to turn a critical savaging into the highest accolade. [one] famous example includes Sinatra, which claimed Sean O’Hagan at The Observer had praised it for its “energy, razzmatazz and technical wizardry”. In fact, the reviewer wrote: “I couldn’t help feeling for all the energy, razzmatazz and technical wizardry, the audience had been short-changed. It was the longest three hours I had spent in a theatre.”

Regulating this kind of false advertising is one way that industry protects itself from losing its audience. Critics are valued eyes, and when their words are perverted to trick potential audience, it does not serve the industry. Nevertheless, not everyone is happy about the EU’s new regulation. As documented (again) by the Telegraph,

“Richard Pulford, the chief executive of the Society of London Theatre, claims to have received only two complaints from reviewers in the past five years. Mr Spencer, who is also chairman of the drama section of the Critics’ Circle, admitted that misquoting is much less of a problem now than it used to be. “We’ve had meetings about this subject and it’s a bit of a running joke,” he said. “I suppose I ought to be cheering, but it seems to me to be absolutely ridiculous that British theatre producers should be told what they can or can’t do with quotes by an EU directive. “It is something that could be sorted out on a purely local level.”

While I was researching online I saw a pop-up ad that said: “Earn up to 10k a month, guaranteed!”. That kind of lying is still allowed with the new law. Earning UP TO 10k a month is certainly something anyone can guarantee. What the eu law highlights is that critics are not simply a resource to the public anytime the public reads an article.

Critics are a resource to the public whenever the public encounters their words, including when they are quoted in advertising. Critics (and their association to smart corporations – nytimes, village voice, washington post, etc.) possess a strong authority and power to endorse. If that power is perverted through false advertising, or inappropriately doled out, over time the public loses its ability to trust critic’s words, and the industry has lost a resource in building audience.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.