Minister expresses doubt over self-regulation in ad industry

"Will self-regulation work? Is it working? Will strengthening of the self-regulation of advertising content take care of the present problems that consumers face vis-a-vis deceitful advertising? Are we doing enough to protect consumers' interest?" Thomas asked while addressing a gathering of advertisers here.

He expressed doubts over the effectiveness of self-regulation in the Indian ad industry while observing there were various laws to regulate content of advertisements.

"Unfortunately, laws like the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act and the Cable Television Network Regulation Act have not had the desired effect to prevent misleading ads," he noted.

He said since several ministries including those of Health and Information and Broadcasting, are involved in the implementation of some of these laws, the government was looking at the possibility of forming a committee in this regard.
"We are now considering an inter-ministerial committee to look at ways and means of making these laws and regulation effective", Thomas said.

There is also a demand for an independent regulator to monitor and certify health-related advertisements, he added.

Thomas told the gathering that misleading advertisements continue to appear despite best efforts of self-regulatory bodies such as Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).

"What strikes you most is that most of the misleading ads are issued not by small fly-by-night companies, but big corporations, who could even be, members of ASCI," he noted.

He quoted a recent ASCI report pointing out an advertisement issued by the Piramal Healthcare on 'getting complete energy in eight days or money back' and by Airtel Digital TV on 'Free Regional Pack for life'.

He said, according to the report, the two could not substantiate their claims.
The minister said that although the Consumer Protection Act provides protection from unfair trade practices, it does not give power to consumer courts to examine ads suo motu to facilitate quick action through interim injunctions.

"In other words, these courts can award compensation to consumers affected by false and misleading ads, but they have no machinery to nip them in the bud," Thomas noted

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