The Advertisement Standards Council of India (ASCI), established in 1985 under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, is a voluntary, self-regulatory body registered as a non-profit company

What is the ASCI?

The Advertisement Standards Council of India (ASCI), established in 1985 under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, is a voluntary, self-regulatory body registered as a non-profit company. ASCI’s mission is clear: to ensure that all advertising activities in India adhere to principles of legality, truthfulness, decency, honesty, social responsibility, and fair competition.

Notably, ASCI is not a governmental entity and its role centers around adopting a self-regulatory code to safeguard consumer interests. It actively invites consumer complaints against unfair, dishonest, or misleading advertisements, subjecting them to independent examination by the Consumer Complaints Council. In 2016, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting mandated that all advertisements adhere to the ASCI Code.

Objectives of the ASCI

ASCI’s overarching objectives encompass the promotion of truthfulness, honesty, public decency, societal standards, and the rejection of hazardous products. These objectives manifest in several key principles:

  • Ensuring advertising claims are honest, truthful, and devoid of misleading or false statements.
  • Preventing the creation of offensive advertisements and upholding public sensibilities.
  • Restricting advertising related to hazardous or socially unacceptable products.
  • Ensuring fair and competitive advertising practices.
  • Codifying, modifying, and adapting a fair advertising code.
  • ASCI also established a Consumer Complaints Council to address claims of advertisements violating established standards and practices.

The Consumer Complaints Council

This council is responsible for examining and investigating complaints from consumers and the general public regarding breaches of the Code of Conduct of the News Broadcasting Associations and advertisement ethics. It can recommend actions against violators, and its members are appointed by the Board of Governors, with 12 representing civil society and 9 hailing from professional advertisers. Typically, complaints are resolved within 4 to 6 weeks. In cases where advertisers fail to respond, the Consumer Complaints Council may unilaterally decide to modify or remove the misleading advertisement.

Jurisdiction of the ASCI

While the legal framework regarding ASCI’s jurisdiction is not entirely settled, various court decisions offer different perspectives. Some courts view ASCI as a self-regulatory body with no power to adjudicate disputes or award damages, while others encourage its role in dispute resolution, emphasizing its complementary nature to the legal system. Clarity is needed to define ASCI’s role and powers regarding complaint resolution.

Procedure for Filing a Complaint

Complaints submitted to ASCI can originate from the public, members of the Board of Governors, the Consumer Complaints Council, or advertisers themselves. Complaints can be lodged through various channels, including letters, official emails, online forms on ASCI’s website, or by phone. The Consumer Complaints Committee handles these complaints, allowing parties involved to present their cases. Decisions are usually reached within 4-6 weeks, with advertisers given a 2-week window for necessary corrections. Failure to comply can lead to the advertisement being published in ASCI’s quarterly release.

False and Misleading Advertisements

India’s competition law includes provisions against unfair trade practices, forbidding false or misleading representations to the public. This extends to advertising, with penalties for violating standards of practice. Misleading advertisements can generally be categorized into two groups: those affecting consumers’ right to information and choice, and those pertaining to health and safety, potentially harming consumers. Recent controversies during the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted instances where advertisers were criticized for making false claims about their products’ efficacy in combating the virus.

Instances of Steps Taken by the ASCI Against Misleading Advertisements

In recent years, ASCI has taken action against several advertisers, including Hindustan Unilever, Airtel, and LG, for false and misleading advertisements. These actions demonstrate ASCI’s commitment to upholding advertising standards and protecting consumers from deceptive claims.

Conclusion

In summary, the Advertisement Standards Council of India plays a crucial role as a non-governmental, non-profit, self-regulatory body in India’s advertising landscape. While its jurisdiction remains a subject of debate, ASCI’s contribution to promoting ethical advertising practices and safeguarding consumer interests cannot be understated. In an era where profit-driven brands may resort to misleading advertising, ASCI’s presence and enforcement of its code serve as vital safeguards for consumers, ensuring they receive accurate information about products and services.

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