ASCI can now block offensive ads at once pending probe

03 Apr 2013


The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) today passed a new rule, Suspension Pending Investigation (SPI), allowing it to stop the airing of excessively distasteful ads with immediate effect, even before a decision is passed by the ASCI's Consumer Complaint Council (CCC).                                        

Towards this end, the ASCI recently amended its Articles of Association to be more in line with the codes of some of the world's more proactive self-regulatory organisations like the Advertising Standards Authority of the UK.

This come soon after ASCI put in place a fast-track mechanism to address complaints as well as a system to monitor misleading print and television advertisements.

In a statement on the new rule, ASCI said, ''In exceptional circumstances, when it appears prima facie that an advertisement is in serious breach of the code and it's continued transmission on/ through/ by any medium causes or has the effect of causing public harm and / or injury or its continuation is against the 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.''

Arvind Sharma, chairman of the ASCI and head of advertising company Leo Burnett for the Indian India sub-continent, said, ''It is an important landmark for ASCI. 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 to support this very important initiative.''

If an ad is suspended, the CCC will adjudicate if the advertisement is in breach of the code after hearing the advertiser and will pass its judgement within 30 days from the date of suspension.

While the move has been welcomed by the ad industry as well as consumer activists, industry experts say that advertisers do not take ASCI rulings seriously. Instead they choose to move the courts to seek relief or press charges against a rival for an offending ad.

Bejon Misra, a consumer rights activist who is also on the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of ASCI, was reported in Business Standard as saying that while the CCC is thorough in its investigation, advertisers often opt not to follow the CCC order when a complaint is upheld.

ASCI can enforce its code in television as it is included in the Cable and Television Act. The body, however, cannot enforce its code in print, outdoor or digital media.

Print constitutes nearly 42 per cent of the Rs30,000-crore advertising market in India. Television follows next with about 40 per cent, while internet advertising stands at eight per cent, outdoor at six per cent, radio at three per cent and cinema advertising at one per cent.

Sharma said the body has been talking to the Press Council of India to convince it to include ASCI's code in its guidelines. ''This will then give us some semblance of support as far as reining in violations in print goes,'' he addsed.

Between April 2012 and March 2013, ASCI upheld almost 70 per cent of the 502 ads that were complained against. These violations were mostly in print and television.

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