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CII suggests strengthening self-regulation mechanism to control misleading ads

White paper calls for strengthening ASCI and for co-regulation with state agencies. Administrative authority will be self-defeating, it says

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | October 3, 2012

The CII National Committee on Marketing has released a white paper on ‘Self-Regulation in Advertising in India: A critical Evaluation’. The paper identifies key concerns regarding misleading advertisements and analyses the issue from an independent point of view. It critically evaluates the role and responsibilities of all stakeholders – regulators, industry, activists and consumers. It has also taken into account the concerns raised by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution contemplating the need for stronger government intervention.

The white paper suggests that the solution to the problems of misleading ads is not to add one more legislation by way of an administrative authority, as proposed by DCA, to the basket of existing laws landscape. It advocates that given Advertising Standards Council of India’s (ASCI) track record in self-regulation of ad content, co-regulation between ASCI and regulators like DCA, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, etc., is an effective solution. Co-regulation will ensure that ASCI and the government work together with all stakeholders to enforce compliance currently vested with ASCI but without any punitive powers. The paper recommends that only in cases of non-compliance of the Consumer Complaints Council’s (CCC) decisions should the matter be referred to the related/parent regulatory body for further action.

The white paper highlights the effectiveness of self-regulation and how ASCI has been at the forefront of settling disputes regarding ad claims, and indecent and unfairly competitive advertising over the last two decades. The paper appreciated the role of ASCI as a model self-regulatory body stating that ASCI is committed to the cause of self-regulation in advertising and protection of the interests of consumers through first of its kind initiatives like :

  1. National Advertising Monitoring Service (NAMS) for monitoring of almost all TV and print ads in India to ferret out ads making misleading, false and unsubstantiated claims
  2. Fast Track for speedier resolutions of complaint by one member against ad of another’s.
  3. Bimonthly Consumer Complaints Council (CCC meetings) versus monthly earlier for speedier resolution of consumer complaints against ads

However, the white paper has suggested the following areas of improvements for ASCI which are included as part of the recommendations:

  • Mandatory membership of ASCI. Membership of ASCI should be made compulsory for all industry players with exposure to advertising industry – media vehicles, advertisers and ad agencies. For instance, rules in Holland require all organisations releasing ads on TV and Radio to be member of its SRO.
  • Integrate ASCI Code into statutory provisions: Sub-rule (9) of Rule 7 having Advertising Code of the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 prohibits TV channels from carrying any advertisement that is in violation of the ASCI Code. Similar provisions may be introduced in other statutes like Press Council of India’s Advertising Code to ensure that advertisements while in conformity with the statutory provisions also adheres to the ASCI Code.
  • Expand coverage of ASCI code to digital and social media: A strong digital outreach programme is required to monitor digital and home shopping networks including outdoor advertising and mobile advertising. Large digital companies like Google, YouTube, and Twitter must join as members and compulsorily sign on to ASCI code
  • Suspension pending investigation: This is one of the major concerns, and therefore control is required on account of advertising with sexual overtones, religious underpinning, and delivery of magical remedies/promotions. To stop airing such ads, a special fast-track process which involves temporary suspension of an ad that prima facie causes harm to society, pending final decision by CCC, can be implemented.
  • Co-regulation between ASCI and DCA as an effective solution instead of a new legislation. The committee has drawn a parallel with the successful model of Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK, which does not possess any punitive powers but  co-regulates with the government bodies to ensure smooth control over the misleading advertisements in that market.

The paper also recommends building awareness about ASCI’s role and code amongst the stakeholders through actively leveraging various media vehicles. ASCI should supplement communication with key stakeholders- industry, regulators, consumers and activists.

To stimulate the discussions at national level, all the corporate and industry associations should engage with the Indian advertising industry to support, defend and engage actively on the Code of Standards for Advertising in India.  Specific areas where support is required are:

  • Industry members promote the code on all occasions
  • The decisions of the Consumer Complaints Council be respected and complied with in relation to current and future campaigns

The paper further stresses on an incessant drive to improve the complaints handling system with an emphasis on continuous review and improvements to the system. This will revitalize ASCI as a more efficient and transparent Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO).

Adi Godrej, President, CII, summing up the issue, said, “This comprehensive and independent white paper further reinforces that self-regulation in advertising works across the globe in controlling misleading advertising, as seen in over 70 countries already. In India too, we believe in the efficacy of ASCI to regulate misleading advertising and, more importantly, its ability for speedy redressal. We urge the Department of Consumer Affairs to reconsider its recent proposal to set up a parallel administrative authority which we strongly feel will delay the process of consumer redressal and be counter-productive to its intent. Instead, we request them to consider partnering with and strengthening the current mechanism of self-regulation through ASCI further, a win-win for consumers, industry and the government.”

 

CII recommendations in a nutshell:

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