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The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a frequent critic of advertising, unveils its annual lemon awards this week with an added bonus-the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission on hand.

The center always invites the sitting FTC chairman to attend the ceremony, even though the group once awarded the commission itself a lemon. But this is the first time the invitation has been accepted.

Robert Pitofsky, who became chairman this year, said he will make brief remarks at the Dec. 14 event in Washington. He wouldn't say what his topic will be.

"My policy is to meet with and speak to the widest range of constituents of the FTC," Mr. Pitofsky told Advertising Age. "It's not in my mind resembling a change in position. I am not endorsing this [any] more than I endorse anything."

The Harlan Page Hubbard Lemon Awards target the worst in ad misstatements. Besides CSPI, groups ranging from the American Lung Association to the Consumer Federation of America and Bankcard Holders of America help select the "winners." In some cases, the awards have cited ads that have prompted complaints to the FTC.

CSPI, which itself has filed more than a dozen complaints with the FTC, also has been frequently critical of the agency. In 1986, it gave the FTC a special lemon, which then-Sen. Al Gore, speaking at the awards ceremony, said was for making "a mockery of its mission."

"We are very pleased [Mr. Pitofsky] accepted," said Bruce Silverglade, CSPI's director of legal affairs.

Mr. Pitofsky said it's not unusual for him to speak to groups that file FTC complaints and cited a speech he made to the annual meeting of the National Advertising Review Board in New York last week.

In that speech, Mr. Pitofsky cited the difficulty the FTC is having checking up on cyberspace and indicated that while industry self-regulation remains important, the FTC may get increasingly tough in some areas.

"The ad community has the best self-regulation that I am aware of. Advertising today is more truthful than 25 years ago," Mr. Pitofsky said, while adding that despite improvements, there's still a place for the FTC today.

"People have to understand that regulation must be taken seriously," Mr. Pitofsky said. "Advertisers need to know that days of [there being] no government threat are over. Fines will be much more substantial than in the past. In addition to fraud, consumer redress is sometimes required and consumer education. Finally, corrective advertising will be required."

Mr. Pitofsky told the group that the FTC will begin reviewing what constitutes the claim of "Made in America" and plans to start monitoring cable TV more closely.

The FTC is currently working with the American Advertising Federation to produce a consumer education campaign aimed at telemarketing abuse.

"We think it's a good idea," Mr. Pitofsky said. "They know how to communicate, and if they are willing to help us, it's all to the good."

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