The Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) has said it is “surprised” to learn that ICASA is seeking to promote the promulgation of an entirely new act to control advertising content on radio and television, when freedom of commercial speech is protected by law and regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of South Africa.
Odette Roper, Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) CEO
The ICASA proposals
reportedly seek to control the conduct, standards, practice and prohibitions in/for advertising, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion in radio and television broadcasting services.
Even more disturbing
But even more disturbing, according to Odette Roper, ACA CEO, is that the ICASA proposals go way beyond the regulation of truthfulness and fairness in its proposed code.
“In fact, the spectre of censorship looms large in the ICASA draft regulations. Does the country really want to go back to the days of limits on the freedom of the media and those who would use the media to promote products and services?”
Roper suggests that self-regulation by the ASA has the support of government, the advertising industry, marketers and various consumer interest groups. The system works and has been streamlined over the years.
“Why fix something that works?” she asks.
Curtail marketing activities
The proposed regulations will affect people who advertise, offer or promote sponsorships or who conduct other forms of commercial promotion. It appears that it will also curtail marketing activities for companies involved in tobacco, alcohol and medicines.
ICASA also appears to want to partially or completely ban certain product advertising due to public health considerations. Here the intention is to prohibit all advertising, infomercials and sponsorship of medicines and pharmaceuticals available on prescription, cigarettes and tobacco products to the general public.
Roper says that the proposed regulations include a section on the protection of children, something that the ASA code already provides for. It appears that ICASA also want to get involved in programming content and can request copies of sponsorship agreements.
Inconsistent with democratic spirit
According to a press statement from the ACA, this “Big Brother is watching you,” approach is inconsistent with the democratic spirit of South Africa. It doesn't stop there, as ICASA also wants to control how on-air personalities are incentivised and rewarded, and that any arrangements are clearly provided. Not content with that, ICASA also wants to control product placement tactics and strategies, to ensure editorial integrity, continues the statement.
“The advertising industry and marketers have grave concerns about those proposals,” says Roper.
“We wonder what possible motive ICASA has for duplicating a highly respected system of self-regulation, and we are aghast at the attempts to exert an insidious form of censorship and dictatorial control over freedom of commercial speech. We all fought for and won the right to freely express ourselves. Can the country even contemplate going back to these dark days? We would hope that common sense will prevail.”