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ASCI takes stiff stand against obscene ads in digital media

In case an advertisement is seen to cause serious breach of the ASCI Code, it has the power to curtail the ad by moving ‘Suspension Pending Investigation’

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | February 3, 2016

asci-logoThe Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) receives and processes complaints against advertisements from all sectors released in the digital media. This has come to the fore mainly because of the recent discussions related to obscenity and vulgarity shown in the digital space in the form of trailers or promos of commercial cinema and TV programmes.

Not many citizens are aware that such promos, even if there is no payment made for its release, form a part of advertising and comes under ASCI’s remit. The definition of “advertising” in the ASCI Code clearly states that “any communication which in the normal course would be recognised as an advertisement by the general public would be included in this definition even if it is carried free-of-charge for any reason."

Currently, when technology is progressing at a tremendous pace, the digital space provides advertisers a powerful platform to promote their products and services. This medium plays a key role in grabbing eyeballs of the target audience almost instantaneously – with the potential of reaching millions if it goes viral. The regulatory mechanisms that have certain controls over traditional media such as Cinema or TV are still grappling with the challenge of overseeing this digital space due to its fast evolving nature. Advertisers, at times, push the envelope due to this ambiguity and the notion that digital media is largely unregulated.

However, consumers would find it heartening to note that ASCI’s Code of self-regulation is quite comprehensive and covers all media including the internet or digital media. Again, the definition of advertising in the ASCI Code establishes that "media are any means used for the propagation of advertisements and include press, cinema, radio, television, hoardings, hand bills, direct mail, posters, internet, etc.” ASCI takes up complaints on advertisements appearing on websites, e-commerce portals, social media platforms and so also movie promo videos/YouTube trailers that people have objections to for being offensive.

Benoy Roychowdhury Benoy Roychowdhury

Benoy Roychowdhury, Chairman, ASCI, said, “The public should keep in mind that for any objections regarding digital advertisements, they can approach ASCI, not just for product or service ads but even promos or trailers of commercial cinema or TV programmes which are also considered as advertisement. If viewers see any ads violating the provisions of ASCI Code such as making misleading claims, showing obscenity or promoting hazardous behaviour, etc. on Internet or any other media they should complain to ASCI."

Speaking about the mechanism that ASCI has to reign in extremely offensive advertisements, Roychowdhury said, “As per ASCI’s Codes of Self-Regulation, Chapter II requires that ‘advertisements should contain nothing indecent, vulgar, especially in depiction of women, or nothing repulsive which is likely, in the light of generally prevailing standards of decency and propriety, to cause grave and widespread offence.’ In case an advertisement is seen to cause serious breach of this or any other code, ASCI has the power to curtail the ad by moving ‘Suspension Pending Investigation’ (SPI).  SPI is invoked in extreme cases only.”

It is in the interest of the advertising fraternity to show restraint in what is put out in digital media as such alarming levels of vulgarity and offensive content would result in inviting strict censorship from authorities. So advertisers should self-regulate to enjoy the continued freedom to express themselves and demonstrate responsible advertising.

Suspension Pending Investigation

In exceptional circumstances, when it appears prima facie that an advertisement is in serious breach of the ASCI Code and its continued transmission on/through/by any medium causes or has the effect of causing public harm and/or injury or its continuation is against public interest, then the ASCI can, pending investigation, forthwith require the advertiser/the advertising agency/the media buying agency and the media concerned to suspend the advertisement. In the event of suspension of any advertisement under SPI, ASCI's Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) shall at the earliest and not later than 30 days from the date of the suspension, adjudicate whether or not the advertisement is in breach of the ASCI Code and pass appropriate order accordingly.

In recent months ASCI invoked SPI against trailers in internet of two movies which were prima facie extremely vulgar and obscene. And producers of both movies voluntarily removed the objectionable trailers forthwith.

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