The PM recently spoke about proposed changes to the Consumer Protection act and how stringent provisions will soon be introduced to tackle misleading advertisements. But the past record of the government does not inspire enough confidence.
The Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi in his recent address at the International Conference on Consumer Protection spoke at length about consumer protection and how it has been an integral part of governance in India. He also spoke about the stringent provisions being proposed against misleading advertisements. But the current regime on misleading advertisements leaves a lot to be desired. There is very little or no information available on the follow up action initiated on complaints made on the Grievances Against Misleading Advertisements (GAMA) portal.
Advertisements have to adhere to the Code
Advertisements telecast on Private TV channels are required to adhere to the Advertising Code prescribed under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and relevant rules. There is no pre-censorship on advertisements. Action is supposed to be taken when violations are brought to the notice of the government.
An advisory was also issued by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in 2014 to all TV channels not to telecast advertisements that are in violation of the provisions of Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, ASCI Code and also Drugs & Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954.
Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory body of advertisement industry has set up Consumer Complaints Council to deal with advertising content. ASCI has been appointed by the government as their executive arm to process complaints received about misleading advertisements.
Growing instance of Misleading Advertisements
Misleading advertisements are growing by the day. The data with the government indicates that more than 4500 complaints were made on the GAMA portal between March 2015 and July 2017. Between 2013 & 2016, ASCI found more than 500 instances of misleading advertisements on TV.
How are Misleading Advertisements dealt?
The Department of Consumer Affairs in March 2015 launched the GAMA portal to enable consumers register online complaints about misleading advertisements. Any advertisement or promotion through Television, Radio, or any other electronic media, Newspapers, Banners, Posters, Handbills, wall-writing etc. that misrepresent the nature, characteristics, qualities or geographic origin of goods, services or commercial activities so as to mislead the consumer can be reported through the portal.
After preliminary scrutiny of the grievances registered on the portal, the grievances are forwarded to ASCI. Complaints which remain unresolved are forwarded by ASCI to the Departments/Regulators concerned for further necessary action.
What is the current status?
As per the data shared by the government in the Rajya Sabha, a total of 4519 complaints were received on the GAMA portal between March 2015 and July 2017. 641 of these were received in 2015, 2032 in 2016 and the remaining in 2017. The government also mentioned that 2106 complaints have been resolved, 947 are rejected and the remaining are pending with the relevant regulators or departments.
Information on follow up action not available on ASCI website
While the numbers might suggest that there is good progress, there is very little information on the follow up action on these complaints.
On the ASCI website, there is detailed information on the complaints referred to it and the decision taken on these complaints. But, there is no information available on the follow up action. While ASCI seems to have upheld a lot of complaints, there is no information to suggest if the advertisers have taken any corrective action. Though the FAQs on the ASCI portal mention that 80% of the advertisers have confirmed in writing about withdrawal or modification of the advertisement, no such written material is available on the ASCI website.
No information on complaints with Ministries
With respect to the complaints forwarded to relevant Regulators/Ministries, no information is available in the public domain to track their progress. One of this author’s complaint is pending with the AYUSH ministry since January 2017.Even with respect to action to be taken by the Ministries, only a handful of cases resulted in action while thousands of such violations were reported by Government’s own Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC).