Rejecting ads and the law

By Rob James, NPAS Sales Director

Your newspaper may encounter situations where you are unsure if you should accept an ad. We encountered a situation like this recently when a newspaper called to express concern over the content of an ad we had sent them. Many newspapers turn to NPAS for advice when this occurs.

The decision to accept or reject an ad rests with each newspaper publisher. As publisher, you can reject an ad for any reason based on your beliefs, policies, guidelines, etc. Of course, whatever policy or guideline you establish should be applied consistently. It is also important for you to understand you can still be sued by someone who thinks they have been treated unfairly.

If you have questions or concerns about the content of an ad placed by NPAS, we ask that you notify us immediately. We have an obligation to let the advertiser know their ad is being rejected. Likewise, if you accidentally leave out an ad, we ask that you notify us as well.

When I was the advertising manager at a Nebraska newspaper, we missed running a sweet corn classified ad that had been paid for in advance. It was purely an oversight on our part. The end result was we were taken to small claims court and the judge awarded damages to the advertiser, who claimed the error of omission resulted in damages to the advertiser. A key ingredient here was the advertiser paid us in advance, and we failed to fulfill the “contract.”

Regarding rejecting an ad….it is usually best NOT to explain in detail to the advertiser why you’re rejecting their ad. When refusing the ad, it’s usually best to say something like this….”We refuse to run the ad in its current form. If you would like to submit a revised version of the ad, we will consider publishing it.” They may push you for a reason, but keep in mind your words can be used against you in a court of law.

If you are clear as to why an ad is being rejected, for example if the ad clearly violates fair housing or employment discrimination advertising laws, a reason can and probably should be given. If a political ad is submitted with an improper paid for disclaimer, you can relay this information to the advertiser as well. But if you simply don’t like the person or entity placing the ad or if you disagree with the content of the ad and you give them specific reasons for rejecting the ad, you are skating on thin ice.

My advice….be fair, be consistent, let common sense be your guide and be careful.

We encourage you to refer to the Nebraska Press Association’s Publishing Laws Handbook for guidance. An updated copy is accessible on the NPA website. Another option is to contact the NPA Legal Hotline at 402-474-6900. Let us know if you have any questions.