UK Media Watchdog Accused of 'Handing Over Its Teeth'

22 January 2004

Consumer Body Slams Ofcom's Proposed Abdication from Regulation of Broadcast Advertising.

Britain's National Consumer Council is up in arms at the latest proposal from Ofcom, the new broadcast media and telecoms supra-regulator which opened its doors for business less than a month ago.

The watchdog is charged by the government with the day to day policing of radio and TV ads. However, it is eager to transfer this chore to the Advertising Standards Authority, already the arbiter of complaints about non-broadcast advertising. The ASA is a voluntary self-policing body funded and run by Britain's ad industry.

But this, says the NCC, would effectively be a "licence for advertisers to run their own show". Responding to Ofcom's consultation document, the NCC calls on the regulator to drop the transfer plan unless there are radical improvements and safeguards. "This new watchdog is handing over its teeth," accused NCC senior policy officer Sue Dibb.

"Commercial interests will be in control of the new codes of advertising practice," continued Dibb. "And Ofcom may be powerless to order a tightening of standards in response to emerging undesirable practices by advertisers."

Critics say the ASA is a toothless watchdog, pointing to repeated infringements of its code by advertisers such as French Connection and Benetton, both punished with a draconian 'tssssk'. The body has no punitive powers, relying at present on the Office of Fair Trading to deal with persistent offenders

Should the ASA also assume responsibility for broadcast ads, Ofcom would use its "backstop powers" to restrain recidivist advertisers.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff