The CII National Committee on Marketing released a whitepaper on "Self-Regulation in Advertising in India - A critical Evaluation". The paper evaluates the role and responsibilities of all stakeholders - regulators, industry, activists and consumers.
Adi Godrej, president CII on the occasion of the release of this white paper, said, "This comprehensive and independent white paper further reinforces that self regulation in advertising works across the globe in controlling misleading advertising, as seen in over 70 countries already. In India too, we believe in the efficacy of ASCI to regulate misleading advertising and more importantly its ability for speedy redressal. We urge 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."
The paper has also taken into account the concerns raised by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution contemplating the need for stronger government intervention, particularly in the context of problems posed by misleading advertisements – and says that the solution is not to add one more legislation, in the form of an administrative authority as proposed by the DCA, to the basket of existing laws landscape.
The CII advocates that, given the Advertising Standards Council of India's (ASCI) track record in self-regulation of ad content, co-regulation between ASCI and regulators like DCA, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting etc. is an effective solution. 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) (of the ASCI) decisions should the matter be referred to the related/ parent regulatory body for further required actions.
However, the paper suggested following areas of improvements of ASCI which are included as part of recommendations.
Key Recommendations by the Whitepaper:
Mandatory membership of ASCI. Membership of ASCI be made compulsory for all industry players with exposure to advertising industry in India- the media vehicles, the advertisers and advertising agencies. For instance, rules in Holland require all organizations releasing ads on TV and Radio to be member of its SRO.
Integrate ASCI Code 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.
Expand coverage of ASCI code to digital and social media: A strong digital outreach programme is required 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.
Suspension pending investigation: 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.
Co-regulation between ASCI and DCA 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.