'Hijacking' of the ASA condemned by Borrie

The Advertising Standards Authority is in danger of being

'hijacked' by companies abusing the self-regulatory system to gain

commercial advantage over rivals, the ASA's newly appointed chairman has


The watchdog body, formed almost 40 years ago to protect the public

against dishonest and offensive advertising, now finds that almost one

in every ten complaints it handles is by one advertiser against


The situation is provoking fears that the ASA's true purpose is being

subverted and that the body's adjudication process, often attacked as

too long and laborious, is being slowed even further.

And it led to a warning at last week's annual ISBA conference , where

Lord Borrie, the ASA chairman, asked delegates: 'Is this what the ASA is

really for?'

Borrie acknowledged that companies had every right to appeal to the ASA

and that industry complaints could open up issues on consumers'


But he questioned whether the number of industry-to-industry complaints

handled by the ASA was evidence of advertisers keeping their houses in

order or of the self-regulatory system being hijacked to support a

marketing strategy.

Borrie claimed industry complaints took up a disproportionate share of

the ASA's resources because they were most likely to need outside

experts to evaluate evidence or result in appeals to the ASA's

independent reviewer.

'We are doing our best to address the issue of speed,' he said. 'But as

fast as we try to speed things up there are those whose actions slow us


Meanwhile, Richard Eyre, the former ITV chief executive, poured scorn on

the so-called digital TV revolution, claiming that technology was moving

much faster than people's willingness to change their habits.

Free-to-air TV would remain a powerful medium for advertisers over the

next decade with TiVo-type technology transforming the viewing behaviour

in no more than 20 per cent of households, he said.

Eyre, who resigned from RTL, the European media giant, last month and

has been tipped as a future BBC director-general, said it did not follow

that leisure-rich people would pay to have personalised access to the

kinds of TV programmes they previously watched for free.

He told the conference that the foreseeable future would be dominated by

free-to-air TV funded by advertisers presenting and sustaining premium

brands 'to a populace whose main use of the TV set is at the end of the

day when they prefer - within reason - to relax with the broad but not

limitless choice of entertainment afforded to them by not having to make

a very great deal of effort'.


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