Indrani Sen: Destroy the Demon

26 Oct,2015

By Indrani Sen


Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) greeted the Indian Advertising Industry this year with ‪@#‎HappyDussehra  Destroy the demon of misleading ads! Dassera, the time when the entire country celebrates the triumph of good over evil, is probably the right time to introspect how we have fared in the area of self-regulations over the last 30 years.


Founded in 1985 with support of three main constituents of our advertising industry, viz. advertisers, advertising agencies and media owners along with other professional /ancillary services connected with advertising practice, ASCI has come a long way in three decades. The Cable Television Network Rules 1994 included ASCI’s Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising in the Advertising Code under Cable TV Act’s Rules. The 2007 amendment of Cable and TV Network Rules reconfirmed it. For some time, ASCI have been taking part in all committees working on advertising content in every Ministry of the Government of India. Many misleading ads are short lived, thanks to ASCI’s rulings.


Yet, we find that at times rulings by ASCI are not followed by the parties concerned. Last year, an advisory issued to all TV channels by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on August 21, 2014 spoke about violation of ASCI’s rulings by some TV channels and advised not to carry ads found ‘violative’ by ASCI. In 2014-15, 80% of the advertisers agreed to accept ASCI’s rulings and agreed to withdraw the misleading ads while 20% did not.  It is more common to find that advertisers, agencies drag their feet before they finally withdraw the offending ad from the market. The media houses very rarely take the onus on themselves and do not refuse any ad even when there is a clear ruling given by ASCI against it. So, the demon of misleading ads continues to haunt our advertising industry with many organisations turning a blind eye.


Can we collectively take some steps to strengthen ASCI’s hands for destroying this demon? Can the various industry bodies like ISA, AAAI, IBF, INS etc. take some positive steps to ensure that all their members abide by ASCI’s rulings? Can our law-makers help ASCI by introducing specific penalty for violation of ASCI’s rulings? I would humbly like to propose a few suggestions to all concerned.


Extend Membership of ASCI

Currently, the membership of ASCI is voluntary and therefore optional. While ASCI cannot enforce the advertisers, agencies and media houses to become their members, the various industry associations can consider making it compulsory for all their members to become a member of ASCI. This would help to spread the awareness about ASCI which currently in many non-member organizations rest on the back burner.


Support Funding of ASCI

As an independent NGO funded by its members, ASCI is not very cash-rich. An extended membership pool will help to increase its resources. In this context, our industry and our law-makers may like to review the system of funding Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in UK which is funded mostly by the advertisers through a remote control mechanism. There is a 0.1% levy on the cost of buying advertising space/time and the 0.2% levy on direct mail which are collected by the Advertising Standards Board of Finance (Asbof) and the Broadcast Advertising Standards Board of Finance (Basbof) for funding the ASA. Advertisers in UK can choose to pay the levy, but they cannot choose to comply with the Advertising Codes or the ASA’s rulings.


Introduce Penalty for Disobeying ASCI’s Rulings

The Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) in UK , which is a part of the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), ensures primarily obedience by broadcasters to their rulings – “Broadcasters are obliged by a condition of their broadcast licences to enforce ASA rulings.  If they persistently run ads that breach the Codes broadcasters risk being referred by the ASA to Ofcom, which can impose fines and even withdraw their licence to broadcast.” ( ASCI have an associate membership of the European Advertising Standard Alliance, but the obligation to comply with ASCI’s rulings rest primarily with the advertisers and agencies in India. Would it be possible for our law-makers to impose fines and withdrawal of licences on Broadcasters/ Newspapers for disobeying the rulings of ASCI? Can IBF and INS who are very strict with advertisers and agencies when it comes to credit control, introduce some such disciplinary measures for their members for disobeying rulings of ASCI?


Introduce Pre-clearance of Ads

Currently, there is no system to ensure that no ad is misleading before it is released. “Some countries’ eg France have pre clearance of ad by self regulatory body requirement, UK TV channels also pre clear advertisements just like DD does it in India”( broadcasters in the UK have established and funded two pre-clearance centres: (i) Clearcast for television commercials and (ii) Radiocentre for radio ads. Considering that most of the ads that the consumers complain against in 2014-15 were from TV media, would it be possible for IBF to introduce a similar system of pre-clearance of all TV commercials in India?


Make ASCI Certifications compulsory in Agencies

ASCI’s new websites has introduced an E- Learning Portal offering 14 modules of self learning courses with certifications at a nominal cost. Agencies should make it compulsory for their creative people to take these courses. I am sure that ASCI would be willing to consider discounts against bulk enrolment, particularly from their member agencies.


Promote ASCI through Corporate Social Responsibility Projects

The aim of ASCI is to maintain and enhance the public’s confidence in advertising. Their mandate is that all advertising material must be truthful, legal and honest, decent and not objectify women, safe for consumers, especially children and last but not the least, fair to their competitors. In 2010, ASCI launched a national campaign against dishonest, misleading ads. Advertisers, who have to spend on Corporate Social Responsibility, may like to consider promoting the aims of ASCI through similar campaigns to public at large and through specific activities to various industry constituents.


Let good sense prevail on each one of us in the industry! Let all of us join hands to support ASCI in destroying this demon of misleading ads!!


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