CLOSE-UP: GLOBAL BRIEF; Spain set to fight new ad laws

Self-regulation or prison threat? Advertisers must decide.

Self-regulation or prison threat? Advertisers must decide.



Spain’s advertising industry is preparing to fight the Government over

new laws that could see staff sent to jail for up to a year for false

advertising.



Last Thursday, after nearly two decades of paying lip service to self-

regulation, agencies, media companies and advertisers relaunched the

industry’s own internal policing body, Auto Control - to prove that

advertising is grown up enough to have November’s tough laws repealed.



Under Article 285 of Spain’s revised penal code, advertisers now face

imprisonment or hefty fines if they make ‘false statements or attribute

untrue characteristics’ to a product or service.



Companies are protesting at the vagueness of the offences as well as the

manner in which they can be decided. Judges can now slap a ban on an ad

without a complaint being made or the advertiser being given a right to

immediate appeal. And since Spanish law is notoriously slow, advertisers

are concerned that an eventual judgment will be too late for practical

purposes.



Stanley Bendelac, chairman and chief executive officer of the leading

Spanish agency, Delvico Bates, fears the laws give too much power to

individuals who may not look at an ad in the context of a campaign:

‘There are many grey areas where judges could have a key, but very

negative, role if they didn’t understand the whole issue,’ he says.



David Torrejon, director of the Association of Spanish Advertisers,

adds: ‘Our concern is about unfair behaviour between companies misusing

the law to ban competitive ads or by consumer associations blackmailing

advertisers.’



Whether the Government will accept the industry’s alternative to sledge-

hammer-cracking-a-nut legislation has yet to be seen. But, since direct

political lobbying on behalf of advertisers by the Catalonian Party and

Partido Popular failed earlier this year, the approach is certainly

worth trying.



Bendelac says: ‘We think it’s the best way of fighting this law,’ adding

that the organisation has just named Madrid University’s Professor of

Administrative Law, Eduardo Garcia de Enterria, as its new heavy-hitting

chairman.



But outsiders are sceptical - not least because of Auto Control’s track

record. Manuel de Luque, deputy editor of the Spanish advertising

publication, Anuncios, says: ‘It has been almost totally ineffective in

the past, but looks much more sensible now, so we’ll just have to see

what happens.’



Perhaps the prospect of swapping expense account lunches for a spot of

porridge will convince most agency heads that regulation is worth

supporting this time.



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