"To all those who messaged me about the atrocious front page ad in The Hindu's Delhi edition on 1 Jan, my view as editor is that this sort of crass commercialisation compromises the image and reputation of my newspaper. We are putting in place a policy to ensure the front page is not used for this sort of an ad again," Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor of The Hindu, posted on his Facebook page.
This was the ad in question:
The ad was released by H Vasantha Kumar, a Chennai-based industrialist and Congress supporter.
While no one disputes a publisher or editor's right to refuse ads on whatever grounds, the point is every such ban will sooner or later develop contradictions. Varadarajan's objection to crassness is actually his definition of what constitutes crass, but others may not think so. And even he may have different ideas about it at different times.
For example, is the ad crass only because it came on page 1, or is it crass for any page? What happens when the ad shifts inside? Does it reduce the crassness?
Most media products, in addition to norms fixed by industry bodies, such as the Advertising Standards Council of India, have their own code of standards and practices for advertising. These cover misleading information, unsubstantiated claims, obscenity and vulgarity, and so on.
Indian advertising agencies are committed to safeguard their consumers by the following code:
• To ensure the truthfulness and honesty of representations and claims made by advertisements and to safeguard against misleading advertisements.
• To ensure that advertisements are not offensive to generally accepted standards of public decency. Advertisements should contain nothing indecent, vulgar or repulsive which is likely, in the light of generally prevailing standards of decency and propriety, to cause grave or widespread offence
• To safeguard against the indiscriminate use of advertising in situations, or of the promotion of products which are regarded as hazardous or harmful to society, or to individuals, particularly minors, to a degree or of a type which is unacceptable to society at large.
• To ensure that advertisements observe fairness in competition so that the consumer's need to be informed on choices in the marketplace and the canons of generally accepted competitive behaviour in business are both served. Both the general public and an advertiser's competitors have an equal right to expect the content of advertisements to be presented fairly, intelligibly and responsibly. The Code applies to advertisers, advertising agencies and media
The 'crass' advertisement may, indeed, be crass, but does not quite flout the ASCI code.
If crassness becomes a ground for refusing to accept an ad, a large percentage of ads that we see currently would never have made it.
What does crass mean? Various things to various people (and dictionaries) but, broadly, without refinement, delicacy; obtuse; stupid.
Varadarajan's decision to put into place a policy to prevent a recurrence of the release of such 'crass' ads is almost Katju-like. Who will decide what is crass?
Are these classified ads crass as well? They're from the Chennai edition, published on Thursday:
"Friendly body massage head to toe"; "Youngsters massage full relax Mens only"; "Full body Relax Msg Hiprofile"
To me they are. As are a number of ads for films, carried in The Hindu's metro supplement.
If Vasantha Kumar's ad is crass, so are the majority of ads released by both central and state governments. Would this ad pass muster, Varadarajan? It's released by the Uttar Pradesh government.
To me, this is as crass as Vasantha Kumar's release. However, that's all it is - crass. It is not an advertisement that should be pulled just because an individual dislikes it.
It's the right and prerogative of any newspaper to accept and reject advertising it finds objectionable or advertising that it feels will lower the image or standing of the paper. It's laudable if that's what The Hindu seeks to achieve, but what will be difficult to deal with are the inherent problems that will be caused by subjectivity.
It's important not to get subjective about the grounds for accepting and rejecting advertising - there are laws and codes that help one decide. If subjectivity is to rule, it'll be interesting to see how crass Varadarajan finds ads from the state government and the central government once his policy is in place.