EDITORIAL: Abuse of the ASA's rules is dangerous

When the Advertising Standards Authority was conceived 40 years ago

its premise was simple: protect the consumer from dishonest and

offensive advertising.



But it seems the ASA is having to do this with one arm tied behind its

back, thanks to the distracting number of complaints from one advertiser

against another.



Of all the complaints received by the ASA, about one in ten comes from

an advertiser, and it's suggested that not all of these are legitimate

complaints about clear breaches of regulations. As the ASA's chairman,

Lord Borrie, points out, there's a very real danger that the ASA's whole

system of self-regulation is open to hijack from advertisers wishing to

further their own marketing strategies.



Abuse of the system not only puts a brake on the ASA's ability to deal

with genuine complaints, but threatens the very fabric of

self-regulation.



Of course advertisers should have a mechanism for legitimate complaint

against ads that result in unfair competition. While the ASA's founding

principle is consumer protection, it has a duty of care to

advertisers.



But when these advertiser complaints are filed, they often require a

greater degree of investigation - references to the Committee of

Advertising Practice panels, appeals to an independent review body, and

so on, diverting the ASA from the role it performs in the interests of

self-regulation: protecting consumer interests.



Such distractions are costly and immensely time-consuming and - this is

the real nub of the issue - the more industry complaints to adjudicate

on, the less the ASA is able to deal effectively with complaints from

consumers. If it can't perform this role, then the notion of

self-regulation comes under siege.



The ASA's self-regulation is an alternative to state-regulated

advertising.



If advertisers fail to support the ASA, then advertising freedom itself

is in question.



Over the past 40 years the ASA has done a fine job of protecting

consumers from abuse of the advertising process. It would be a crime if

its powers are eroded by the unnecessary distractions of

industry-to-industry complaints.



All advertisers have a stake in ensuring this never happens; it's time

that stake was valued above individual short-term commercial interests.



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