GLOBAL BRIEF: Aussie ad regulator under fire - Protests are growing at the watchdog’s lack of powers to get tough. By John Tylee

Even by Australian advertising’s basest standards, the poster for Wild FM featuring an amputee with the announcement that ’Sydney’s best dance station is back on air ... unfortunately’ plumbed new depths of tastelessness.

Even by Australian advertising’s basest standards, the poster for

Wild FM featuring an amputee with the announcement that ’Sydney’s best

dance station is back on air ... unfortunately’ plumbed new depths of

tastelessness.



A suitable case for the country’s advertising watchdogs to surf in on a

tide of public revulsion to order its withdrawal, you might think.



Wrong. True, the ads were pulled by the station. But such is the

shambles that now passes for Australia’s self-regulatory system that it

was under no obligation to do so.



Confusion has reigned ever since the disappearance of the country’s

Advertising Standards Council two years ago and its replacement by an

advertiser-run body which has no power to ban ads. For consumer groups,

the ASC’s replacement is no more than a toothless protector of vested

interests.



The problems began in 1996 when the ASC was disbanded after the

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission declared its practices

anti-competitive, leaving the country without a complaints body.



Into the void stepped the Australian Federation of National

Advertisers.



It created the Advertising Standards Board which, unlike its

predecessor, does not ban ads but persuades advertisers either to modify

or pull offensive ads via letters and media publicity.



And how many ads have actually been withdrawn because of ASB

pressure?



Up to last month, a grand total of two.



Still smarting over the ASC’s demise, Paul Toose, its former chairman,

has branded the ASB a ’pathetic charade’ which covers only national

advertising with the result that few complaints will ever be upheld.



One solution might be to scrap the ASB and start again. But Matti

Alderson, director-general of Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority,

is not so sure. ’Of course, advertisers must take ultimate

responsibility, but the ASB can only be effective by involving agencies

and media owners.



And it can’t just restrict itself to matters of taste and decency,

ignore misleading advertising and have no powers of sanction.’



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