Self-regulation by ASCI is any day better than an official regulator for advertisements
Self-regulation can work quite effectively to curb false and misleading advertisements, even when an impromptu committee of socially-conscious citizens is put together to decide complaints. Marketing and advertising expert Paritosh Joshi demonstrated this most effectively at a Moneylife Foundation seminar on how to hold irresponsible advertisers accountable. “The advertising code revolves around just four words—truthful, decent, safe and fair—to decide whether an advertisement is appropriate,” he instructed the committee drawn from the audience. Despite strong differences in sensitivity, perception and attitudes of the audience, decisions by this group mirrored the view of ASCI’s (Advertising Standards Council of India) official committee, in most cases.
This is significant because, every year, the ministry of consumer affairs (MCA) threatens to set up a government regulator to monitor advertising. Advertisers and agencies believe, with good reason, that bureaucratic, censor-board-like clearances will lead to delays and corruption. It was clear from the programme that an independent committee, using common sense, could be just as effective in holding advertisers accountable without any knowledge of the ASCI code. Remember, the withdrawal of an expensive advertising campaign, especially one that has celebrity endorsements, imposes a massive financial cost on the advertiser. A strong code is a good deterrent.
Unfortunately, consumer organisations and academics, often the beneficiaries of financial grants from the ministry, tend to back the MCA in asking for an advertising regulator. Do we need another censor board for advertising? The common-sense answer would be a resounding ‘No’. In the past couple of years, ASCI has, indeed, worked hard to increase its reach through suo moto action and an independent monitoring mechanism to catch false and irresponsible advertising with a special focus on education ads, dubious medicines and slimming products. But a lot more needs to be done.
ASCI still attracts criticism for dragging its feet on issues that affect its large advertisers. It also does not cover financial advertising, where misleading claims and calculations are subtler. Three specific areas that ASCI needs to address are:
• Disclaimers continue to be unreadable. The text of these disclaimers must also be made available to complainants on request, at least by email. Similarly, complainants must be given access to research reports that form the basis of specific positive claims made in advertisements (15% whiter, 3.5x stronger, twice as soft, etc). This is important because, very often, the results have been found misleading or based on unreliable sources and unrecognised authorities. While these usually become the subject of intra-industry disputes, there is no reason to deny the information to complainants within a specific timeframe.
• ASCI’s biggest weakness is its reluctance to act against repeat offenders or habitual offenders. These are usually large multinational companies who are hard-pressed to substantiate the claims of their fairness creams or promise of flawless complexions, anti-pimple remedies or even nutrition products aimed at children. Many believe that the companies have worked out a neat routine of carpet-bombing a new advertising campaign, knowing full well that it will lead to consumer complaints (at least from competitors) which will be upheld and force the withdrawal of the campaign in about six weeks. The next campaign, cynically, makes a new set of unsubstantiated claims that are again upheld. If ASCI fails to respond to demands to step up action against powerful repeat-offenders, it will continue to face the charge of being a weak regulator and the constant threat of the greater evil of a government regulator being set up.
The Supreme Court has held that if compensation for land acquired under the 1894 Land Acquisition Act has not been paid to the landowner, or deposited with a competent court and retained in the treasury, the acquisition would be deemed to have lapsed and would be covered under The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (the 2013 Act) entitling the landowners to higher compensation. However, the rider is that such an award of compensation should be five years or more prior to the enactment of the 2013 Act which was notified on 1 January 2014.
The Pune Additional District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum has directed a city-based builder to repay the advance he had received from a customer, as he failed to deliver the flat booked by the customer.
Anant Shankar Keskar had booked a flat in a scheme in Dhankawdi developed by Shree Sai Construction on 24 September 2010, by paying Rs4.5 lakh. The total cost of the flat was agreed at Rs37 lakh, of which Rs10 lakh was to be paid by cash and the rest by cheque. An agreement for sale of the flat was duly registered.
Since Mr Keskar could not pay the rest of the money in time, the builder sold the flat saying that the customer forfeited Rs4.5 lakh. According to the builder, the forfeiture was as per the clause in the agreement for sale. The Forum rejected the argument that the customer had surrendered the right to get back the money he had paid to the builder if the agreement became void for any reason. “In fact, it was wrong and illegal to insert such a clause in the agreement of sale,” the Forum observed. It, therefore, held that the builder should pay Mr Keskar Rs4.5 lakh along with interest @18%pa (per annum) and a compensation of Rs25,000 for mental and physical harassment. The Forum also ordered the builders to pay Rs2,000 to Mr Keskar as cost of litigation.