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ITV regional service Central Tonight has been censured by Ofcom following a complaint that a report featuring a river rescue service was a "blatant advert".

The regulator found that the report, broadcast in May, breached Rule 9.4 and 9.5 of the Broadcasting Code, which state products, services and trade marks must not be promoted or given undue prominence in programming.

The report featured Stafford firm River Canal Rescue, which was celebrating its 10 year anniversary at the time of the report.

According to Ofcom, following a complaint that the news item was a "blatant advert" for the company, ITV Central said the feature had not been broadcast in return for payment or other valuable consideration, with all costs incurred in producing the report paid by ITV.

"The bank holiday period at the end of April is one of the busiest times on the waterways, and the canals in the Midlands form a major part of the leisure and tourism in the region, narrowboating being a popular pastime there," the broadcaster added, according to today's broadcast bulletin.

"For these reasons, the Central News team thought a story about narrowboating, the safety issues it can raise and the unique work a local company does in this area would be of interest to its viewers."

ITV Central also referred to programmes produced by various outlets featuring RCR in recent years, adding that it did not consider its own references to the company as promotional.

It also argued that its references were editorially justified and not presented in a manner that made them unduly prominent, with a number of edits having already taken place "to reduce the number of times RCR and its logo were referred to".

Ofcom accepted that visual references to the company's name and logo "were appropriately limited" and that other references did not provide significant detail of its cover or its prices.

"Nevertheless, we noted that, having established RCR as 'the AA of the waterways' and 'the only company in the country offering breakdown cover for boaters', the reporter later added that '...River Canal Rescue ... have more than 400 engineers on call across the country, covering three thousand miles of waterway, twenty-four hours a day', shortly after which an RCR customer offered her personal endorsement of the company.

"These comments appeared to us to be typical of those generally used for promotional purposes (e.g. in advertisements). Given the brevity of the report, together with the nature of the above comments, Ofcom considered it promoted RCR's services in programming, in breach of Rule 9.4 of the Code.

"Further, even though the locally-based business's tenth anniversary may have provided some editorial justification for being a news item, the report itself appeared principally to promote RCR, given the manner in which the above references to it were made."

No one at ITV was available for comment at the time of writing.

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