Editorial: ASA's procedural review couldn't be better timed

Always in the eye of the political storm, the Advertising Standards Authority can't afford not to keep justifying its existence or to demonstrate that what it already does well it can do even better.

So it's timely that the body should be bringing in consultants to look at how it goes about the daily business of handling complaints and ruling on them.

And not just because it's been five years since Ofcom turned the ASA into a "one-stop shop" overseeing all broadcast and non-broadcast advertising. Public concerns about alcohol, gambling and snack-food promotion to children helped send complaints to record levels last year. And there's no reason to think they won't climb further as the use of price comparison in ads grows and companies' environmental claims are increasingly challenged.

Meanwhile, the Office of Fair Trading is eager to extend the ASA's remit. Marketing information on corporate websites is to come within its jurisdiction and there will be tighter regulation of teleshopping and online promotions.

Taken together, these issues give extra urgency to ensuring not only that the ASA's processes work effectively but are seen to do so. Experience suggests that there are a couple of areas that might require attention.

One is the trend by some companies to masquerade as a consumer to make a complaint about a rival's advertising. New regulations enacted last year make this kind of subterfuge illegal. Maybe the ASA needs to remind companies tempted to do this that they'll be breaking the law.

The other is the difficulty faced by advertisers in getting an ASA ruling against them overturned. TV campaigns are often expensive to make and costly to pull, yet it seems that the odds are stacked against anyone opting to appeal. Proving that the original ruling was flawed or amassing new evidence that would cause a ruling to be reversed is difficult and may help explain why so few appeals are successful.

If Britain's self-regulation system is to stay the envy of the world, its fairness and transparency must be unquestioned.