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ASCI seminar: Call to speed up review, compliance system

Ministers Ambika Soni and KV Thomas stress that the ASCI redressal mechanism allows enough time to misleading ads to convey their false message before being pulled out

Surbhi Chawla | Delhi | November 18, 2011

In a sensitive environment that has many kinds of consumer groups, leaving creativity free may not be best solution; there has to mechanisms for self-regulation. At the seminar organised by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) held in New Delhi yesterday, Ambika Soni, I&B Minister and Prof K V Thomas, Minister of State for Food, Consumer Affairs & Public Distribution, said it was necessary to further improve the self-regulatory mechanism by speeding up the processes and compliance of ASCI’s codes for advertising content.

Prof Thomas, in his keynote address, talked about the ill effects of misleading advertising, and stressed that sectors such as educational institutions should necessarily follow the ASCI code of self-regulation. He also said that he was particularly worried about the advertising on health and nutrition products.

To elaborate his point, he mentioned the example of a clinic in Rishikesh that assured 100 per cent cure for leprosy, which was a totally false claim. “It is not just fly by night operators that give out misleading ads, even big establishments who are also members of ASCI often do so. I am specifically referring to an ad by Piramal Healthcare promising complete healthcare failing which it return the money or the Airtel Digital ad which promised to give a free regional pack for life,” said Thomas.

It is necessary for ads to be able to substantiate what they claim. He stressed the need for a mechanism through which “we can prevent such ads from coming out and disseminating their message”. He explained, “If someone finds an ad to be objectionable, it takes about four to six weeks for the Consumer Complaint Council of ASCI to come out with a decision on the complaint. Post that the brand is given a fortnight to either modify or withdraw the ad. The irony is that by that time the product’s message has already been disseminated to the masses and there is no way to undo that. So there is a need to have a strong self-regulation system to ensure that misleading ads or ads that cannot substantiate their claims are not shown at all.”

Thomas added, “We are reviewing consumer complaints on misleading advertisements and debating how to manage this issue. We are considering a legal requirement as well as an inter-ministerial committee to look into the issue of misleading and false advertisements. We are open to working with ASCI for a collaborative effort to take this entire matter forward.”

I&B Minister Soni too urged ASCI to speed up its redressal mechanism to make the self-regulation machinery more effective. She too felt that every ad had a shelf life of six to eight weeks and if the ad is continued to run for this long with their false claim, then they have done their job. She pointed out, “It is a question of sensitivity and not of rules or regulations. The key intention here is that all of us should sensitise ourselves to ensure that 1.2 billion people can enjoy the freedom given to us.”

Soni added, “Self-regulation is an evolving system in response to the growing aspirations of the consumer and the common man. Advertising is the principle motivator of growth in consumer demand, thus making the role of a creative person extremely significant.”

Commenting on the issues raised by the ministers, I Venkat, Chairman, ASCI, said, “As part of our evolving self-regulatory system, we have increased the frequency of our Consumer Complaints Council’s meetings to twice a month since November. The fast track service announced recently has already received positive response. CCC has already reviewed eight advertisements until now under the fasttTrack system. The support we expect from government will ensure that ASCI continues to create global standards and international benchmarks in self-regulation of advertising content.”

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