The CII National Committee on Marketing released a whitepaper on ‘Self-Regulation in Advertising in India – A Critical Evaluation’. The paper identifies key concerns regarding misleading advertisements and analyses the prevailing issue from an independent point of view. The paper critically evaluates the role and responsibilities of all stake holders –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 whitepaper suggests that the solution to the problems posed by misleading advertisements is not to add one more legislation in the form of an Administrative Authority as proposed by the 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 such as DCA, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, etc.) as an effective solution.
Adi Godrej, President, CII said, “This comprehensive and independent whitepaper 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.”
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 whitepaper recommends 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 required actions.
The whitepaper highlights the effectiveness of self-regulation and how ASCI has been at the forefront of settling disputes regarding ad claims, 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 such as:
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. Bi monthly Consumer Complaints Council (CCC meetings) v/s monthly earlier for speedier resolutions of consumer complaints against ads
However, the paper has suggested following areas of improvements of ASCI which are included as part of recommendations.
• Mandatory membership of ASCI: Membership of ASCI be made compulsory for all industry players with exposure to advertising industry in India – the media vehicles, the advertisers and advertising 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 such as 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 in the mushrooming Indian advertising industry. To stop airing such advertisements a special fast track process which involves temporary suspension of an advertisement, which prima facie causes harm to the 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 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 revitalise ASCI as a more efficient and transparent Self Regulatory Organisation (SRO).