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Growing anger over ASA refusal to rule on govt ads promoting POIB

The refusal by the Advertising Standards Authority to rule on complaints about Government advertisements promoting the Protection of Information Bill has fuelled growing anger in the media and marketing industry over inconsistencies and selective application of regulations. [video]
In the past week, the ASA has told the Right2Know Campaign and a concerned citizen that "the ASA does not have jurisdiction to rule over controversial issues."

This response is nothing short of breath-taking in its arrogance.

This latest refusal to have anything to do with Government POIB advertising has added fuel to the fire that is fanning growing discontent in the marketing and media industries.

Marketers are becoming more and more incensed that inconsistent ASA rulings are costing them a fortune in legal fees and that the increase in ASA fees for appeals [according to Gail Schimmel of Adsolve, the latest increase means that marketers will pay a total of R176 700 to lodge a complaint and see it through to a final appeal, and that these fees are non-refundable - managing ed] is adding to the growing amount of unnecessary costs that eventually just get passed on to the consumer anyway. So, far from protecting the consumer, the ASA is inadvertently adding to the cost of living.

Media backlash

Equally, the media industry, already struggling with increasing competition and decreasing profits, is becoming irritated with having advertisements banned on the basis of taste and personal sensitivity, which is impacting on their revenue.

It is no secret that the ASA is itself battling financially as it depends on the media for its income. And, if it continues to bite the hands that feeds it through being inconsistent, I would not be in the least surprised if some big media companies stopped complaining and simply decided to cut off their funding.

Don't upset big brother

Two complainants to the ASA of the POIB ad issue, the Right2Know campaign (@r2kcampaign) and Rhys van Wyk (@RhysvanWyk), are convinced that the ASA simply does not want to get involved in anything that might upset Government.

Van Wyk said: "I was sorely disappointed with the response from [the] ASA. I have complained once before [successfully] and was very [happy] with the process, but now I must say after reading the response I was flabbergasted and sorely disappointed."

It is laughable that the ASA has suddenly decided that it will not rule on controversial issues, because even the most superficial search through its past rulings will show that it has often chosen to rule on controversy simply by renaming it "offending," or declaring an ad to be "in bad taste."

Case histories

I think immediately, for example, of any number of Nando's advertisements that were banned not because they were misleading but because they simply offended the sensitivities of perhaps one or two private citizens. The ASA, incidentally, works on the basis that one citizen of our country can represent the opinion of all 50million.

And, in spite of the constitution of South Africa being based very clearly in the premise of "innocent until proved guilty," the ASA continues to be allowed to do its work on the basis of 'guilty until proved innocent'.

The very same inconsistency applied to the banning of the innocuous Big Korn Bites advertisement because the Mexican ambassador complained to the SA government that it was "stereotyping Mexicans", with the result that the ASA lost absolutely no time in banning it.

The recent history of the ASA is littered with inconsistencies and the selective application of its regulations.

State Security's Protection of State Information Bill radio ad

State Security's Protection of State Information Bill ad 1

State Security's Protection of State Information Bill ad 2

State Security's Protection of State Information Bill ad 3

State Security's Protection of State Information Bill ad 4

State Security's Protection of State Information Bill ad 5

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For More List updated at 1.10pm on 19 April 2012.

About Chris Moerdyk: @chrismoerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
Walter Pike
Chris, I couldn't agree with you more.
Posted on 19 Apr 2012 17:09
Arnold Pollak
Shame on the ASA. Another one bites the dust. So yet another 'governing' body proves that they are only puppets of the 'ruling' party. Time for the ASA to disband and fade into the history books, OR, to do their job, no matter how much they dislike the heat that may be incurred by the advertisers.
Posted on 20 Apr 2012 06:55
Rhys van Wyk
Chris, the more I look at these adds the more ridiculous they become, the most disingenuous drivel. I just cannot believe that the ASA has turned into such a disappointment. I might not be able to do much, but I will keep up whatever pressure I can muster. Thanks for your support
Posted on 20 Apr 2012 10:16