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INTERVIEW

“Our codes already go hand in hand with the FSSA”
Tuesday, 28 February, 2012, 08 : 00 AM [IST]


Advertisements are playing an important role today as more and more companies are coming up with new products to meet growing demands of consumers. But in the process, they tend to deviate from ethics and fall under the “misleading ads” category, which has shaken the industry.

Archana Aroor, in conversation with Allan Collaco, secretary-general, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulation mechanism body, explores more on the topic

The Union government is looking to set up a separate inter-ministerial committee for checking misleading ads? As a council member what would you suggest?

Yes, ASCI's suggestion is that we have been self-regulating on ads, since 26 years. We are willing to work with the government to ensure that consumers’ interests are protected completely. For this, we have held a conference in New Delhi on Nov 17, 2011, to discuss the various issues and to look at the major challenges faced. What is being conveyed to us from the conference was that ASCI needed to look into the speed that it takes for checking misleading ads.

Therefore we have introduced recently two things to deal with the situation:

a) We have introduced a fast-track process for the industry which will take only eight days instead of 42 days

b) Also, it has been decided that a meeting would be held twice a month from December instead of only once, to review such issues.

Reports say that the number of complaints that you have been receiving has considerably increased. How many complaints have you received in the last two years? How were these misleading ads rectified by ASCI?

Earlier, we received around 150 complaints against 125 ads. A year before that we had received around 190 complaints against 153 ads. In 2010, we received a total of 777 complaints against 190 ads.

These 190 ads are being presented every month before the consumer court council where if we consider 190 ads means around 15-16 complaints are dealt with every month. They are being presented before the court, which then decides whether the ads are being misleading or not.

Last year, for 190 ads, around 104 were found to be misleading or found not ethical, whereby 84 advertisers had modified their ads. Hence, we had received about 81 per cent of the complaints.

ASCI is eyeing for collaborations with the FSSAI and the DCA (Department of Consumers Affairs)? Why? Is it because that the current mechanism is not very strong to peep into the ongoing issues?

This is because that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had written to us about a year-and-a-half ago, regarding the new Act (FSSA) asking our suggestion whereby we had already provided them the necessary points.

Which are the important codes that advertisers are mandated to adhere to?

In general there are four principles:

1. Advertisements have to be honest

2. Advertisements have to be decent

3. Advertisements should not go for unsafe practice

4. They need to be fair in competition meaning to say they are not allowed to degrade other companies and exaggerate their products with others.

No, our code already goes hand in hand with the FSSA which covers almost 13 areas with regard to food and beverages.

Highlight some of the new codes, which could be incorporated, if such collaboration takes place.

No, our codes already go hand in hand with the FSSA, which covers almost 13 areas with regard to food and beverages.

What changes can a consumer expect from this decision in terms of presentation of ads?

We repeatedly ask the consumers to be aware of their rights. If they come across any misleading ads which goes against their culture they are free to write to us at writetoasci@vsnl.net.

K V Thomas, minister of consumers affairs, food and public distribution, has stated that the current mechanism for monitoring ads is not working adequately? Does it mean that the ASCI should get more statutory powers in the near future?

Yes, I do agree. ASCI has already statutory powers but for television so with television we have absolute 100 per cent compliance. In case, if there are any ads found to be misleading then they should follow the ASCI guidelines strictly. But it would be good if we get the same authority for print, or any other medium like website, Internet etc. Perhaps, it would work smoother and effectively.

What are the current regulatory challenges that the organisation is facing?

I do not think that there are much challenges. If anyone makes a claim we ask for a technical assistance, where we also have a panel of experts to evaluate such claims.

Mention some of the food-related ads, which have been quoted as “misleading?”

No, we are not allowed to disclose that, sorry.

The growing competition in ads to meet consumer demands has been the reason why many companies are not adhering to the codes, what strategy would the ASCI develop to discourage them in the near future?

We try to ensure all the companies whether smallest or biggest to adhere to our standard guidelines.

For them rule is rule, they need to adhere to that, as we protect consumers’ interests. Like I mentioned, we have devised strategies to reduce the time period by introducing fast-track process to check misleading ads so that the complaints could be looked into within eight days.
 
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