Channel 4 will defy legal threats from ITV to broadcast the results of an undercover sting involving stars of the soap Coronation Street next month.
The Dispatches film called Celebs, Brands and Fake Fans, which allegedly shows several soap actresses promoting bogus products on Twitter, potentially in breach of marketing rules, will be aired on Monday 5 August at 8pm.
Brooke Vincent, who plays Sophie Webster in Coronation Street, is among several celebrities said to have been caught up in the sting set up by the Channel 4 programme.
Three ITV soap actresses were reported to have used Twitter to promote “healing bracelets” and “anti-ageing” skin toner from a bogus brand called Puttana Aziendale, Italian for “corporate whore”, which was actually a front for Channel 4 investigators.
Two weeks ago a spokesman for the soap said the allegations were false, and denied the actresses had done anything wrong. ITV has since threated to sue Channel 4 for alleging that its employees received free gifts in return for tweeting, saying they did not indulge in any kind of unlawful marking promotion.
A Coronation Street spokesperson said earlier this month: “The programme has made allegations that are false and highly defamatory and we have written to the producer threatening legal action if they decide to broadcast.”
Coronation Street actresses Vincent, Krissi Bohn - who plays Sophie’s partner Jenna in the soap - and Cherylee Houston (Izzy Armstrong) are believed to feature in the Dispatches programme. They were allegedly among a host of celebrities, including Hollyoaks actresses, invited to a “gifting” event at a hotel in Manchester in February where they were provided with freebies and encouraged to tweet about them.
The products they allegedly promoted, a Puttana Aziendale “zionate bracelet”, apparently made by Buddhist monks, turned out to be costume jewellery, while the “Mistique spray”, supposedly derived from a mountain well in Bali, was actually just tap water.
The documentary’s official billing, published yesterday, states: "In this one-hour special Channel 4 Dispatches goes undercover to investigate what's real and what's fake in the brave new world of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.”
"Celebrities have considerable influence on social media. But are some less than transparent when tweeting brand names with their legions of fans? Dispatches exposes the new tricks used by marketeers to plug brands, from buying fake Facebook 'likes' and YouTube 'views' to influencing social media conversations."
The documentary alleges that the actresses risked breaching Advertising Standards Authority guidelines which state that sponsored messages on social networking sites should be clearly marked as such.
Celebrities have since been advised to make it clear if there is a commercial relationship behind a product-endorsing tweet by using the hashtag “ad” to avoid falling foul of the law.
The ASA investigated footballer Rio Ferdinand and model Katie Price, who were paid to plug Snickers, after complaints that their tweets were not obviously identifiable as adverts. But the ASA dismissed the complaints because the tweet included the hashtag “spons”, indicating it had been sponsored, next to the address @SnickersUK.
However the advertising body banned a NikeTwitter campaign featuring the Arsenal star Jack Wilshere. He ended a tweet: “#makeitcount. gonike.me/Makeitcount” but had not disclosed his sponsorship deal within it.
ITV today declined to comment further.