Friday, August 05, 2005

Sony Fakes It, Again

Sony can't seem to handle the truth. Instead of offering legitimate fare the media giant is paying off broadcasters and fabricating reviews to tart up their media products and push them on an unsuspecting public.

Late last month, Sony agreed to pay $10 million for payola improprieties after they were found to have funneled millions to radio broadcasters who bumped Sony artists to the top of playlists. If you were surprised that your local station exhumed Celine Dion from pop obscurity in 2003 -- following five years without a hit -- wonder no further. Sony had bribed radio stations with money and prizes in exchange for frequent airplay of two tracks from Dion's latest.

And the hits keep on coming. This week, Sony agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the studio of citing a fake movie critic in ads for several films.

Solid Gold
In 2001, Sony's faux reviewer of choice, a David Manning of the Ridgefield Press, heaped praise atop their cinematic stinkers, including Hollow Man, which he declared had "the summer's best special effects!" The Animal starring Saturday Night Live castaway Rob Schneider was "another winner" as seen through Manning's benevolent lens. More than 700 viewers at Yahoo!'s news group graded this "winner" with a less favorable C+. Manning was one of very few critics to reserve kind words for 2000's Vertical Limit, a movie that I saw in theaters (true confession) and liked. In an ad for A Knight's Tale, Manning was quoted calling actor Heath Ledger ''this year's hottest new star!''

The Ridgefield Press, a small weekly newspaper in Connecticut, has never had a movie critic named David Manning. No matter for Sony. The company's brilliant legal team attempted to cloak Sony's misleading practices in the First Amendment, citing the media giant's Constitutional right to lie to consumers. A California court of appeal threw out this feeble defense, ruling that faux reviews counted as commercial speech and were, therefore, not protected by the Amendment.

Indeed. It's called "truth in advertising" and it's enshrined in the Federal Trade Commission Act, which states:

  • advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
  • advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
  • advertisements cannot be unfair.

In the fallout since the Manning farce came to light in 2001, the fictional critic has launched his own blog where you can read reviews.

Posters over at the Onion's "AV Club" eulogized Manning today, speculating what the ghost of this fake critic would have to say about more recent Hollywood flops.

Duped audiences who paid for Manning's top picks during their original theater runs can now file a claim for a $5 per ticket reimbursement, according to the lawyer who brought the suit against the studio.

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