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ASCI Code made compulsory for TV, surrogate ads expected to be hit the most

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ASCI Code made compulsory for TV, surrogate ads expected to be hit the most

Television is set to see quite a few restrictions with the amendment made in Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2006. While programming came under the scanner first, next was the application of 10+2 minutes per hour cap on the advertising:content ratio with the subsequent rollout of CAS. The latest in the list involves television advertising, where the ASCI code has been made compulsory – meaning a move from self-regulation to government regulation or as ISA, President, Bharat Patel puts it, co-regulation.

Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is a voluntary and non-profit organisation, which was set up by a group of advertisers, advertising agencies, media, etc., in 1985, with the objective of ensuring that all advertising was legal, decent, honest and truthful along with a sense of social responsibility to the consumer and to the rules of fair competition. So far, this has been observed by the industry voluntarily and as Patel points out, 80 per cent of the industry has been adhering to the ASCI code.

However, the notification in the Gazette of India: Extraordinary {Part II - sec. 3(i)}, made sure that TV commercials abide by the ASCI code. Patel saw this as a very progressive step. He said, “Where 80 per cent of the industry has been following the ASCI code, now a 100 per cent has to and that will ensure further credibility in advertising.”

In addition to this 20 per cent coming under the scanner, Patel firmly believed that surrogate advertising would be hit in a significant manner. He said, “I see surrogate advertising seeing pressure now. The kind of advertising that is wrong or for products that really aren’t the main business of a brand name is going to stop.”

He explained that since the norm came under the Cable TV Act, channels became the first party responsible under the Act. He further said, “The onus is on them to ensure that objectionable ads, as per ASCI Code, aren’t aired on the channel. However, the responsibility to avoid or correct such a situation is on both advertising agencies and advertisers as well.”

As for the channels, they don’t see this changing their life in any form at present. In fact, the move has been welcomed. MTV Networks’ Sales Head, Nitin Jain, said, “I hope the situation gets better now. Otherwise, there have been instances where we deny an ad based on ASCI Code and then see it on other channels. Not only does that make me look foolish and cheated on revenues, but it questions the entire system. Now that it is a law, there should be some changes in this.”

Jain raises a question here, “What the ASCI is doing presently is post-analysis. Why can’t it check out before the ad goes on-air so that there is some consistency in the system?”

NDTV Media CEO, Raj Nayak, had a pertinent point. “Government regulations shouldn’t discriminate between different media and should be uniform to all so as to create a level playing field. However, somehow most regulations are targeted at television broadcasters,” he said.

He further said, “As a professional, I know that there will be regulations and responsible media owners will follow the law of the land. My only submission is that is should be applicable across print, TV, radio, outdoor and all other media.”

Zee Network’s Ashish Kaul pointed out that the ASCI code was followed by the media major in any case. He said, “We follow the ASCI code strictly as does every other broadcaster we know. Now that this is a law, even the ones who don’t follow will do so, and I see this as a positive aspect coming from this amendment.”

Advertising agencies, too, see this as a step in the right direction, but at the same time, they are also clear that this change into co-regulation wouldn’t affect them in any form. Pratap Bose, CEO, O&M asked, “Why should it? Any large and mature agency would know that one cannot contravene the law. It’s only a loss and an embarrassing situation to be in.”

Reacting to the effect that this law could have on surrogate advertising, he said, “That would be a huge issue and I think liquor as a segment will have to revisit its communication strategies. That said, even despite the tobacco ban, names like Gold Flake and ITC are doing what they are doing.”

Arvind Sharma, Chairman, Leo Burnett, too is very positive about the new regulation. He said, “The difference is the same as there is between a car that works 70 per cent, vis-à-vis one that works 100 per cent. In case of surrogate, so far it was the channels’ interpretation of what is surrogate and what is not, now it would be ASCI’s interpretation.”

Patel and Sharma strongly advocated that the norm should be seen in other mediums like print as well. Nakul Chopra, Ambience Publicis was also of this opinion. He asserted, “ASCI has been doing a great job in regulating advertising content. At one level, why, when self regulation was working brilliantly, would one look at the need for government intervention. However, this does put more power in ASCI’s hands and this is good for advertising on the whole.”

Ram Poddar, Chairman, ASCI, explained, “This has been a long standing request of ASCI and I would like to place on record our grateful thanks and appreciation to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for helping make the advertising self-regulatory movement in India stronger and more effective.”

ASCI encourages the public to complain against advertisements which they consider to be false, misleading, offensive or unfair. All complaints are evaluated by an independent Consumer Complaints Council (CCC), which has 21 members – 12 from civil society and nine from advertising practitioners. The CCC has been able to decide upon the complaints within a period of 4-6 weeks.

Recent statistics suggest that in as many as 85 per cent of the complaints upheld against TV advertisements, the advertisers/channels have confirmed in writing to have forthwith complied with the decisions of CCC, either by withdrawing or modifying appropriately the subject advertisements. ASCI has now sought the support of the concerned associations such as Indian Broadcasting Foundation to persuade TV channels to adhere to ASCI’s Code as well as implement the decisions of its CCC in this regard.


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