Crackdown on market researchers who beg questions and bend answers

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The Independent Online

Unscrupulous market researchers who set up bogus focus groups or publish phoney data could face expulsion from their profession under a tough new system of regulation.

Unscrupulous market researchers who set up bogus focus groups or publish phoney data could face expulsion from their profession under a tough new system of regulation.

Headed by a former senior police officer, the Market Research Disciplinary Authority will clamp down on researchers who in the past have "bribed" schools to take part in surveys for sweet, biscuit and fast food companies.

In other cases, research firms have failed to honour promises of cash and holidays to amateur researchers in return for getting them to ask the public questions.

Market research has mushroomed in the last 10 years, covering everything from people's favourite foods to their voting intentions.

Now, in response to concerns about the integrity of some so-called research the Market Research Society has appointed Peter Lally, a former Chief Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, to help enforce its code of conduct. He will have the power to suspend and strike off members from the Society's register as well as reprimand or demote those found guilty of misconduct.

He said the authority would fulfil a "vital function" in providing an independent and impartial ruling. Under the present system a professional standards committee made up of senior members of the Society hears complaints from members of the public.

Each week the names of errant market researchers are published in its newsletter but the Society does not make them known to the public.

Yesterday, Bob Worcester, the chairman of MORI, described the complaints system as "ham-fisted" and long overdue for radical reform. In 1999, the professional standards committee investigated his own organisation's poll on the euro for the Confederation of British Industry, when a number of CBI members complained of a "leading question" in the survey which encouraged respondents to say they were in favour of the euro in principle.

"We were completely cleared of all the charges," said Mr Worcester. "But it took the Society over a year to publish the finding, and they only did so after I wrote to them."

Sally Ford-Hutchinson, chair of the Society, said the disciplinary authority had been introduced to meet all the safeguards of the Human Rights Act 1998. "This new revised procedure provides us with a robust and fair mechanism to enforce our code of conduct in the interests of all participants in the market research process.

But she stressed that complaints are very rare. Out of the millions of market research interviews conducted last year, only 17 disciplinary cases were investigated.

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