CII's white paper suggests co-regulation to check misleading ads

NEW DELHI: 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 Department of Consumer Affairs but lies in co-regulation, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry.

The CII has come out with a white paper on “Self-Regulation in Advertising in India- A critical Evaluation” issued by the CII National Committee on Marketing, according to which co-regulation between the Advertising Standards Council of India and regulators like DCA, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and Ministry of Information & Broadcasting was an effective solution.

The paper was released today in the presence of CII National Committee on Marketing Chairperson Thomas Varghese, CII President Adi Godrej, KPMG Partner and Head FDCO Nandini Chopra who made a detailed presentation on the paper, former ASCI Chairman Sam Balsara, Centre for Media Studies Director P N Vasanti, and CII Director General Chandrajit Banerjee.

Godrej urged 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 white paper, while appreciating measures taken by ASCI to check misleading ads, has suggested mandatory membership of ASCI for all industry players with exposure to advertising industry in India - the media vehicles, the advertisers and advertising agencies.

It has also said that the ASCI Code should be integrated 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.

The coverage of ASCI Code should be expanded to digital and social media to monitor digital and home shopping networks including outdoor advertising and mobile advertising. Large digital companies like Google, YouTube, and Twitter must join as members and compulsorily sign on to ASCI code.

It has also made suggestions that have far reaching effect like the one to suspend ads pending enquirY. 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, CCI has suggested in its white paper.

Co-regulation between ASCI and DCA has been suggested 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.

The white paper specifically says areas where support is required include Industry members promoting the code on all occasions; and the decisions of the Consumer Complaints Council should 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.

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