ASCI to work with government to regulate ads

A new initiative by the Department of Consumer Affairs promises better regulation and more teeth to the ASCI and its orders against errant advertisers.


The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) will soon become more than just a recommending body against errant advertising. The ASCI is getting more teeth for its work, as it has now become part of an inter-ministerial monitoring committee set up by the Department of Consumer Affairs.

As of now ASCI's orders are binding only on ads that are broadcast on television. This happened when ASCI's code of ethics was made a part of the Cable Television Network Rules, 2006. As a result, ads on TV have to abide by any rulings by the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) banning or asking for modifications in the ads.

ASCI has become more and more active, with growing concern regarding the content of advertising as it becomes even more ubiquitous. Initially, ASCI restricted itself to erroneous or faulty claims in ads, but for a while now, ASCI has been taking a strong position on the content and messages in advertisement.

With the latest move, ASCI's powers will not directly increase, in that it will not get any new powers, however, the objective of the Department of Consumer Affairs is clear that ASCI can take a more proactive role in joining efforts with other ministries which may have Acts that are violated by any advertisements.

As an example, Moneylife recently reported that ASCI had ruled against Wockhardt Hospitals' ad in Mumbai Mirror. The ruling also cited the code of ethics of the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the fact that under law medical practitioners cannot solicit clients. Under the new role that ASCI is playing with the government, ASCI would be able to intimate the Health Ministry and initiate action under the ministry.

ASCI says that in spite of the Council being a body geared towards self-regulation of ads (except TV ads), 100% of the orders that the CCC passes against TV ads, and around 80% of the orders passed against print advertisers are being complied with by the advertisers. With the growing reach of mass media, ASCI's role will only grow and evolve further in the coming years.

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    Telecom Commission sends spectrum proposals back to TRAI

    Telecom Commission decided to send back reference to TRAI as some clarification is required on some of the recommendations while few of them cannot be implemented in the present form


    The Inter-ministerial panel on Telecom has decided to send back Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)'s recommendations on spectrum valuation and pricing for a review, saying that some of them can't be implemented in the present form.


    "Telecom Commission decided to send back reference to TRAI as some clarification is required on some of the recommendations. Some recommendations also cannot be implemented and hence TC wants TRAI to reconsider them," an official from the Department of Telecom (DoT) said.


    Last month, TRAI had given its recommendations on valuation and pricing of 1800 Mhz and 900 Mhz spectrum bands, being used for 2G services, for the next round of auction.


    The regulator had suggested about 10% higher price for spectrum in 1800 Mhz over the final bid price that was received in the February auction.


    The Commission has also has send back recommendation given for 800 Mhz (CDMA) spectrum band by TRAI in February for reconsidering some points. The regulator had suggested CDMA spectrum reserve price of Rs2,685 crore per megahertz for auction, which is around 50% higher than the previous pan-India base price.


    The regulator has also recommended selling radiowaves in the 2100 Mhz band along with the proposed auction. Part of spectrum in 2100 Mhz band is held by Defence and DoT is in discussions to get some frequencies vacated for 3G mobile services in this band.


    "Discussion is on with Defence. TC has decided to focus on spectrum for auction that is coming up for renewal," the official said.


    Most of the spectrum which is proposed to be put up for sale is being used by Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular and Reliance Communications across various parts of the country.


    These companies will need to buy back radiowaves to continue their operations in areas where their licences are expiring in 2015-16.


    The next round of spectrum auction is proposed to be held in February 2015 from which government is estimated to garner at least Rs9,355 crore.


    TRAI has also recommended taking back 900 Mhz spectrum from state-run BSNL and most of CDMA spectrum from MTNL and BSNL. The suggestion has been turned down by DoT's internal committee saying DoT has no jurisdiction to take back spectrum from these companies under the licence conditions.

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    Complaint against Wockhardt Hospitals' ad upheld by ASCI

    ASCI ruled that the Wockhardt ad, which appeared in September in Mumbai Mirror, was misleading and against the MCI code of ethics.


    The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), on the 5th of November, ruled on Moneylife Foundation's complaint against an advertisement by Wockhardt Hospitals. ASCI upheld the complaint and advised the advertiser to withdraw or modify the ad if they did not wish to appeal the decision of the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC)


    The complaint refers to an advertisement put out by Wockhardt in Mumbai Mirror that said, “the best in healthcare meets the best in Bariatric Surgery.” Other than the completely unverifiable headline, the print ad had other claims that went against various rules and ethical guidelines.


    The ad said that a new doctor had joined the hospital, a certain Dr Bhandari. The ad says, “Dr Bhandari is here to treat, educate and operate upin obese and diabetic patients through Bariatric surgery.” As the CCC reported in its findings, the Doctor's registration certificate ended up showing only an MBBS degree. This would mean that either he performs surgeries without an MS (Masters in Surgery) or he does not have one and does not perform surgeries at all!

    At the outset, the complaint said that the ad violated the ASCI code of conduct for medical practitioner. Secondly, Moneylife's complaint said that according to Clause 6.1 of the Medical Council of India Code of Ethics Regulations 2002, a doctor cannot solicit patients, and hence would it be correct for hospitals to do so in the name of a doctor? Clause 6.1 states that, “Soliciting of patients directly or indirectly, by a physician, by a group of physicians or by institutions or organisations is unethical.”


    Moneylife's complaint stated that claiming yourself to be the “Best in healthcare” or “Best in bariatric surgery” was wrong on the part of the hospital. There would be no way to evaluate such claims and the ad did not offer any substantiation of these claims itself.


    The complaint had also pointed out that bariatric surgery is a serious matter and that it had even led to deaths in some cases, most famous being the case of the Maharaja of Mysore, who developed more complications after he underwent a bariatric surgery in 2010. He died on 10 December 2013 due to Septicemia and lung infection that he developed after undergoing Liposuction procedure. Advertising of medicines and healthcare services has been a major issue with the ASCI, where lives are at stake and often the patients' long term health.


    The CCC concluded that the claim that Wockhardt was the 'best in healthcare' or that Dr Bhandari was the best in bariatric surgery, could not be verified in any way. The CCC also agreed that the ad was in violation of Clause 6.1 of the Medical Council of India Code of Ethics Regulations 2002.


    The CCC order cited Chapter 1.1 of the ASCI guidelines, which states that all claims made in ads must be truthful and should be possible to be substantiated. While the CCC does leave the advertiser the option to appeal or show how their claims in the ad were true, it is unlikely that such a claim can be substantiated.


    The CCC order also says that the ad is against Chapter 1.4 of the guidelines too. This clause says that an ad must not distort facts or mislead the consumer. With the fact coming to light about the advertised doctor's qualifications to be advertised as a surgeon, this becomes and even more serious case.

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    Professor Dr BM Hegde

    5 years ago

    Thank you Sucheta.

    Professor Dr BM Hegde

    5 years ago

    These days direct and indirect advertisements by doctors and corporate hospitals have become the norm rather than exception. Why single out one hospital?

    In fact, at one stage the Royal College of Surgeons of England had put a moratorium on Bariatric surgery. I am sure this surgery will die a natural death eventually after killing many, many more patients like Mysore Maharaja.

    This operation is against nature's laws. That apart the gut is the vital part of the human immune system. If you alter its physiology you are going to get into serious short term and long term consequences. Immune depression with fatal infections is the most dangerous.

    If one recapitulates medical history in the 1950s and 60s Gastro-jejunostomy and partial gastrectomy were the till- movers for surgeons and hospitals. They led to protean long term problems and now one does not hear about them. I am sure Bariatric surgery will find its place in the dust bin. Sooner that happens the better for patients.

    As you get out of the aircraft in Ahamadabad at the entrance to the baggage area there is a huge board claiming that Bariatric surgery is best in one hospital there. This has been there for months without anyone noticing that it is unethical. Some eye hospitals are daily advertising in the electronic media that they are there for any of your eye problems. (Hum Hai Na)

    Corporate hospitals defy all ethical norms, but who bothers? If the MCI had the guts to close down all such hospitals there will be no corporate hospitals left in India. Then politicians will say that it is bad for the country. In fact, it will be the happiest day for the nation. Hospitals and doctors DO NOT keep society healthy anyway!

    A Citizen


    Sucheta Dalal

    In Reply to Professor Dr BM Hegde 5 years ago

    Dear Prof Hegde

    Thank you for writing and commenting on this piece. In fact, I personally filed the complaint about Wockhardt.
    I did it because I saw it and was outraged.

    Had I travelled to Ahmedabad and seen the advertisement, I would have clicked a photograph on my mobile phone and sent a complaint to ASCI about this too.

    Things will change when citizens act to stop wrong doing and misinformation. I wish readers in Ahmedabad are inspired to file a complaint .

    Today, filing a complaint with ASCI is extremely easy and can be done online. The code is available online and it also engages with people through Facebook. A specific complaint with proof works wonders -- it eliminates the feeling that one hospital is singled out.

    When more of us get alert and active even the MCI will have to pay heed.


    Simple Indian

    5 years ago

    And besides this advt, there are advts on certain FM Radio stations these days by "doctors" of the "South Mumbai" Wockhardt Hospital stating how they honour their Hippocratic Oath. What hypocrisy !

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