Taking a tough stance, the Delhi Government informed the Delhi High Court on October 29, 2009, that the publisher of a surrogate advertisement on liqour would be slapped with a fine of Rs 10 lakh and a jail term of six months as per the amended the Delhi Excise Act.
According to media reports, standing counsel Najmi Wajiri, appearing for the city government, submitted before the Division Bench of Chief Justice AP Shah and Justice S Muralidhar that the State Government’s proposed Excise Bill had been approved by the Centre and that the same would be finally placed before the Delhi Cabinet for approval.
As per the amended Act, a steep hike has been made in the fine for violators, from Rs 200 to Rs 10 lakh or a jail term of six month or both against the publisher of surrogate liquor ads.
It may be recalled that in May 2009, the Delhi High Court had warned news magazine ‘Outlook’ against publishing the ads of Royal Challenge whiskey. The Court’s warning came over a petition filed by an NGO Nirmal Sahara, which had alleged that ‘Outlook’ had published direct and surrogate advertisements of Royal Challenge, as Vijay Mallya, owner of the Royal Challenge brand, had also named his IPL T20 team ‘Royal Challengers’.
As per a notification issued on February 25, 2008, the Government had banned surrogate advertising of liquor companies in print, electronic and outdoor media.
The then Information and Broadcasting Minister PR Dasmunsi had told the Lok Sabha in a written reply, “The notification was issued on February 25, 2008, amending the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 had been amended to the effect that no advertisement would be permitted that promoted directly or indirectly, sale or consumption of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol or liquor.”
He added, “Failure to comply will entail action as per the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and rules framed thereunder.”
However, liquor companies have been finding a way around regulations by bringing out brand extensions with names similar to the liquor brands and sponsorships. Some examples that come to mind include, Teacher’s Achievement Awards, Royal Challenge golf accessories and mineral water, Kingfisher mineral water, Bagpiper soda and cassettes & CDs, Haywards soda, White Mischief holidays, Smirnoff cassettes & CDs, Imperial Blue cassettes & CDs, etc.
What the ASCI Code says
The Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) has laid down specific rules and guidelines prohibiting surrogate advertising.
Section 6 of the ASCI Code states: ‘Advertisements for products whose advertising is prohibited or restricted by law or by this Code must not circumvent such restrictions by purporting to be advertisements for other products the advertising of which is not prohibited or restricted by law or by this Code. In judging whether or not any particular advertisement is an indirect advertisement for product whose advertising is restricted or prohibited, due attention shall be paid to the following:
(a) Visual content of the advertisement must depict only the product being advertised and not the prohibited or restricted product in any form or manner
(b) The advertisement must not make any direct or indirect reference to the prohibited or restricted products
(c) The advertisement must not create any nuances or phrases promoting prohibited products’
With Delhi Government’s tough stance, it remains to be seen what repercussions there would be on liquor companies and surrogate advertising.