Hill Looks Into Altered Ad Images

A new bipartisan bill has been referred to the House Energy & Commerce Committee that would require the Federal Trade Commission to study the impact of photoshopping or otherwise altering images in ads to evaluate whether it should constitute an unfair or deceptive practice, then report back to Congress.

If so, the FTC could take steps to curb or eliminate the practice through its enforcement authority.

The Truth in Advertising Act of 2016, introduced last week and referred to the House Energy & Commerce Committee, would "direct the Federal Trade Commission to submit to Congress a report on the consumer harm arising from the use, in advertisements and other media for the promotion of commercial products and services, of images that have been altered to materially change the appearance and physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of the individuals depicted."

The report would also have to assess the prevalence of the practice, and provide "clear" guidelines for advertisers on how altering images could constitute unfair or deceptive practices.

It would require the FTC to solicit input from stakeholders for the report.

The bill was introduced by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

"We must promote healthy body images so that young people feel comfortable in their own skin," Ros-Lehtinen said when the bill was introduced. "Imagine what could be accomplished if young Americans were free to focus their attention on improving the world around them rather than focusing hopelessly inward to change themselves on the basis of false and unattainable physical standards. The FTC already has the legal authority and responsibility to help, but they haven’t adapted to the modern digital age. It’s time for the FTC to identify and curb the deceptive practices of some advertisers for the benefit of consumers and honest businesses alike.”

"We support these bipartisan efforts in Congress to address deceptive and potentially harmful advertising," said Parents Television Council president Tim Winter. "It’s well-known that images in ads aren’t always what they seem." Winter says the bill "doesn’t prohibit anything, nor does it interfere in any way with the creative process."

PTC has long argued that advertisements have been selling a doctored standard of beauty to children and teens that is a "false narrative that harms young people" and has tried to combat that through a campaign against objectifying teenage girls.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.