Ofcom Chairman ‘Hopeful’ of Self-Regulation Ad Policy

21 May 2003

Lord David Currie, chairman of embryo British media supra-regulator Ofcom, on Monday declared himself “quietly hopeful” that TV and radio advertising can be policed by self-regulatory methods – an outcome robustly lobbied for by its practitioners.

The plans already submitted by advertising and broadcast companies were “eminently sensible”, opined Currie, adding that Ofcom is already mulling how best to delegate its regulatory powers to a new industry-funded organization.

Ofcom’s remit excludes press and outdoor advertising, already supervised by the voluntary Advertising Standards Authority – seen by Ofcom as a policing template when it assumes responsibility for all broadcast, internet and telecoms oversight at the year end - assuming always that its progenitor, the Communications Bill, has not been buried by then beneath an avalanche of criticism.

Said Currie in a speech to the UK Advertising Association: “We think that the [ad industry] task force has made some eminently sensible institutional proposals for the scheme. Their proposal builds upon the widely acknowledged strengths and reputation of the ASA, but it does so in a way which keeps the broadcast scheme wholly separate from the ASA's traditional role and arrangements in relation to non-broadcast advertising.”

If the voluntary model receives the green light, it will still be answerable to Ofcom – a system described by Currie as co-regulation and likened to “the regulator having a stick in the cupboard and everyone (the regulator included) hoping that’s where it stays”.

In response to fears expressed by consumer organizations that self-regulation could result in a lowering of present standards, Curry was emollient: it was in the industry’s own interests that it behaved responsibly, he said.

“The advertising industry is in many respects special. Advertising only works if consumers believe it and are attracted by it. There is thus a strong alignment between the incentives of advertisers and the interests of the regulator and of consumers that advertising is ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’ [the mantra of the Advertising Standards Authority]. So co-regulation is likely to find fruitful ground.”

The ASA, Currie revealed, is far better known to the public than its existing broadcast counterparts. A recent survey had shown three times as many consumers to be aware of its existence than they were of the Independent Television Commission and Radio Authority.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff