‘GAMA was actually launched in 2015; ASCI is handling it on the backend’

Since I&B Minister and MoS Consumer Affairs spoke about government body GAMA in the Parliament, the advertising industry has been abuzz with speculation on what it means for ASCI

e4m by Neeta Nair & Noel Dsouza
Updated: Jul 1, 2019 11:53 AM

On June 29, Twitter was abuzz with news that the government has ‘launched’ a portal called Grievance Against Misleading Advertisements (GAMA) where complaints relating to misleading advertisements can be lodged. The news raised questions on what it meant for The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory voluntary organisation of the advertising industry in India that has been committed to the cause since 1985.

We spoke to members of ASCI to find out. Shweta Purandare, Secretary General of ASCI, clarifies, “The press release incorrectly states that GAMA has been launched now. In fact, it was launched in 2015. Back then, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) signed an MoU with ASCI. DoCA recognised ASCI as a single support body in the country which has been doing this job for more than 35 years.”

But does GAMA take away ASCI’s status as the only body which can look into advertising-related complaints even though it does not have any penal power and largely relies on the power of persuasion?

“We have been working with DoCA ever since GAMA was launched and ASCI is looking into every single complaint received on the portal. We are handling it on the backend. Basically, both the parties joined hands. It is a perfect example of co-regulation. ASCI looks into complaints as per the ASCI self-regulatory codes, and in cases where the advertisers do not assure compliance, we escalate it to the regulatory authority,” explains Purandare .

She elaborates, “GAMA portal is looking into all sectors. If a complaint pertains to the Ministry of Ayush, then ASCI gives an update to the Ministry of Ayush. It is a good model where the sector regulators are also involved. So, if there is non-compliance, the sector regulators such as the FSSAI or Ministry of Health can intervene. GAMA is an umbrella portal which eases lodging a complaint for the consumer. We also keep GAMA updated about the complaints that directly come to ASCI. Additionally, we are also doing suo moto surveillance of television and print ads. So it is a mix of three elements.”

Purandare , however, is quick to clarify that ASCI is not working under or for the government.

“It is just a co-regulatory model and such a model exists in the UK as well.  It is a win-win for consumers as their grievances get speedily addressed, also for the regulators as their burden is reduced, and for the industry, because an expert body which understands advertising is looking into the problem areas,” she says.

At the moment by and large ASCI claims to get compliance on its own in 85 per cent of the logical complaints against an ad and 100 per cent of the cases as far as Television ads are concerned, because MIB recognises ASCI. Their focus is on discontinuing problematic ads in a limited time frame. However, for other issues that concern product quality or product causing harm to someone, there are other forums available.

The big difference now since 2015 is that when ASCI escalates a complaint concerning non-compliance on the GAMA portal, considering that the access to GAMA has also been given to the sector regulators, as soon as the officials receive a notification from ASCI, they approach the advertisers and get the licensing machinery into action. Showcause notices are sent to these advertisers from the ministry.

Talking about the association between ASCI and GAMA, former ASCI Chairman S K Swamy says, “DoCA has had GAMA portal for some years now. ASCI partners with DoCA to adjudicate these complaints. We had an MOU with DoCA when I was the Chairman a couple of years ago. The relationship started even before my time. Perhaps, GAMA is being re-launched to spread the word.”

Industry veteran Ramesh Narayan, who has been actively tweeting about GAMA, said, “ASCI is one of the industry initiatives we are proud of. I am glad that the PIB is opening another avenue to address grievances. I am sure ASCI will take care of these issues expeditiously. After all, self- regulation is vital, more so for a government that has promised less government and more governance.”

Agnello Dias, Creative Chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network India, echoes the sentiment on self-regulation while confessing to having not heard of GAMA. He adds, “ASCI does pull us up and we have been complying for many years now. In fact, everybody complies with ASCI. As an advertising agency, we are more than careful anyway because in this day and age anything misleading can backfire for the brand. That’s more important than a government body.”

While several other industry leaders we spoke to had not heard of GAMA that has been in place for four years now, it was a suggestion by Dr. (Prof), Kirit Premjibhai Solanki, BJP MP, Ahmedabad West (Gujarat), in the Lok Sabha recently that brought GAMA into the limelight.

He had said, “In the country, the use of electronic, print and social media has increased. There are millions of people who get influenced by ads. There are some ads that are misleading like Fair & Lovely’s which promises that people will become fair in a week’s time and Voltas promises to keep vegetables fresh for an entire month. For many years, there have been complaints and the government has taken action. However, the government should have a body which takes suo moto cognizance of faulty ads and not just on the complaints against the misleading ads.”

In response to that I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar said, “The question raised about misleading ads which can influence consumers is very important. That’s why there are laws and rules for this already in place. There is an organisation by Consumers Affairs Ministry called the GAMA which was launched in 2015. It is an online portal where complaints can be lodged. In the past four years, 6,710 complaints have been lodged and action has been taken. For e.g. one company said it is the fastest network, we found that was incorrect. Then a certain packaging for a noodle brand said ‘Ready to eat noodles’ which was found to be wrong and misleading and thus it was rectified. ASCI is a voluntary association, but the government gives its support to them. ASCI is for print, TV, radio, hoarding, SMS, email, websites, product packaging, brochures, promotional material and point of sale material. All these areas are covered. And we take help from ASCI for the complaints that are lodged.”

In Rajya Sabha, Danve Raosaheb Dadarao, the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, took the thread of thought forward. “During the period between 01.04.2018 and 31.03.2019, a total of 3,884 complaints have been received on the GAMA portal. Out of these, 2,235 have been resolved and 1,040 were rejected for being incomplete or not pertaining to the misleading advertisement.”

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