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Controversial Ad Ban Imposed on Newspapers
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Adverts for medical treatments often containing fictitious or inflated claims were banned on Wednesday as part of the ongoing drive to improve trust in newspapers.

The government banned adverts promising treatments for cancer, venereal diseases, AIDS, psoriasis, epilepsy, hepatitis B, vitiligo, and lupus erythematosus, as well as for services including abortion, as part of its ongoing drive to clean up the advertising industry.

The move follows an earlier ban on advertising breast enlarging products and height improving medicines in August.

The General Administration of Press and Publications and the State Industrial and Commercial Administration have issued the bans in an effort to improve public trust in newspapers. However, experts warn the latest ban could torpedo small newspapers' profits.

"These ads can account for up to 60 percent of the revenue of some small newspapers," said Chen Gang, professor of advertising with Peking University.

The Beijing Times, a local newspaper in the capital, said its adverts contributed annual revenue of about 1 million yuan (US$126,000).

"The ban's influence on us will be limited because these adverts account for a small percentage of our total advertising," said Meng Long from the paper's advertising department.

However, he admitted that the ban would cause a loss of 100,000 yuan (US$12,600) this year. "We will have to adjust our advertising business strategy next year," he added.

According to a recent survey by Beijing's administration of industry and commerce, newspapers often carry exaggerated or untruthful adverts.

The survey said at least 2,400 out of the 2,560 inaccurate adverts detected by the monitor in the third quarter of 2006 were published in newspapers, with medical adverts accounting for a large proportion.

"If we find banned ads through either spot-checks, or reports we receive, we will first warn the newspaper or magazine," said an official with the administration's newspaper division. "If the warning is not heeded, the newspaper will face suspension and a fine."
A quick glance at Beijing's major newspapers yesterday seemed to reveal less potentially inaccurate adverts, but readers have doubts about how long the ban will last.

"Simply banning these sorts of adverts won't mean the end of them," said Beijing News reader Yuan. "If they're banned in newspapers today, they will just emerge in other media tomorrow. The most important thing is to strengthen supervision and law enforcement."

Having lost the ability to advertise in newspapers, some of the advertisers involved have decided to stop advertising for now.

"We will stop advertising for a while," said a woman, surnamed Lian, who works for Beijing Houshengtang Pharmacy, which often advertises its vitiligo treatments in local newspapers.

"If the newspapers aren't allowed to run the adverts, we have to stop. So far, we haven't considered which media we may replace them with," she said.

(China Daily November 2, 2006)

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