The Advertising Association has delivered a broadside to the government over its current proposals for TV and radio ad regulation under the new OFCOM regime.
Who: UK Government and The Advertising Association
When: June 2002
Amongst those concerned with the regulation of broadcast advertising in the UK, there was optimism that the coming of the new regulatory regime for the UK communications industry by way of the new "Office of Communications" (OFCOM) would lead to a "lighter touch" control system for TV and radio ads. However, the government's "Policy narrative" which accompanied the publication of the draft Communications Bill in May 2002 poured a fair amount of cold water on these hopes.
Earlier informal indications had suggested that the government would be prepared to move to a system for TV and radio advertising control which was largely based on the current self-regulatory system for non-broadcast advertising based on the British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion and operated through the Advertising Standards Board of Finance (which bankrolls the system), the Committee of Advertising Practice (which writes the Code and enforces it) and the Advertising Standards Authority (which processes complaints of breaches of the Code). The Government, in its Policy narrative, however, suggested that it would still want to retain procedures whereby individuals could complain about advertising direct to OFCOM.
In a fairly "high dudgeon" response to the Policy narrative, the Advertising Association sees this as not altogether different from the current regime, where individuals complain directly to the Independent Television Commission about advertising which may breach the ITC Code, while industry-run and financed pre-vetting bodies the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre and the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre work on behalf of the networks to reduce the instances where such complaints are raised.
It was the height of inconsistency, said the Advertising Association, for the Government to make positive noises about self regulation (which would by implication be financed purely by the advertising industry) whilst at the same time preserving to the legal regulator extensive powers to consider and adjudicate upon complaints. If there were to be "taxation", the Advertising Association said, in the form of the industry having to finance the control systems itself, then there had to be "representation" in the form of semi-autonomy over the regulatory process, with OFCOM only acting as a form of backstop for serious or extreme cases.
Why this matters:
Amongst the widespread publicity generated by the proposed relaxation of media ownership controls in the Communications Bill, the Government's ominous and disappointing comments concerning the regulation of TV and radio advertising were not picked up by many. The Bill is now subject to a period of public consultation by a joint committee of the House of Lords and House of Commons which will finish on 2 August 2002. The joint committee is expected to report shortly afterwards, with the Communications Act becoming law and OFCOM fully up and running before 2004. Whether the Advertising Association missed a trick in not putting forward a comprehensive and detailed self regulatory proposal for broadcast advertising in its initial comments on the Government's white paper is not clear, but it certainly pulls no punches now in its submissions to the joint committee. Time will tell whether its comments will fall on receptive ears or whether the Government will take the view that owing to its intrusive nature, broadcast advertising should continue to be subjected to a special regime similar to that which currently operates.