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ASCI gets powers to suspend code violating advertisers instantly

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MUMBAI: For long, some rogue advertisers have been taking advantage of the fact that the advertising industry watchdog, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), takes time to cane them if they have violated any advertising codes. That will be a thing of the past, with ASCI introducing its Suspension Pending Investigation (SPI) policy. Under this, ads that breach ASCI’s code will be withdrawn immediately, pending decision of its Consumer Complaint Council (CCC).

In September 2012, ASCI had said it was working on amending its articles of association along with the appointment of its new chairman Arvind Sharma, bringing it in line with the codes of some of the other Self-Regulatory Organisation (SROs) like the Advertising Standards Authority of the UK.

The new SPI article states: "In exceptional circumstances, when it appears prima facie that an advertisement is in serious breach of the 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 ASCI would, pending investigation and decision by CCC, forthwith require the advertiser/ the advertising agency/ the media buying agency and the media concerned to immediately suspend the release of advertisement.

"Also, in the event of suspension of any ad in the manner as aforesaid, the 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 Code and pass appropriate order accordingly after giving a reasonable opportunity to hear to the advertiser whose advertisement has been suspended. This decision of the suspension is to be taken by the chairman (or, in his absence, the Vice Chairman) of ASCI, in consultation with two members of the CCC."

The initiative is a personal victory for Sharma who has been mooting this for a while. Says he: “Suspension Pending Investing is an important landmark for ASCI. It will ensure immediate action against advertisements that are clearly seen as against public interest. This initiative will go a long way in getting seriously offending ads removed immediately before they cause any damage to the consumers and society in general. We expect the advertising sector consisting of advertisers, ad agencies and media to support this very important initiative wholeheartedly to protect the interests of Indian consumers and general public.”

For the record, ASCI has in the recent past taken other initiatives to speed up its decision making process. From monthly meetings of its CCC, it has moved to bi- monthly meetings. This has reduced the – average complaint adjudication - time from 45 days to 30 days. ASCI has also introduced the fast track complaint redressal process which provides decision against intra industry complaints within seven days.

Clearly, the bells are tolling for rogue advertisers and agencies.

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