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Comms Council warns of red tape and higher costs after government report slams industry self-regulation

Self-regulation of the advertising industry – particularly but only the outdoor industry – is not working, and has been guilty of allowing the sexualisation of children and objectification of women, among other vices. So all forms of advertising should be subject to new forms of control, a government review of the national classification system has recommended.

Despite six months of government lobbying to prove that self-regulation was working, the Communications Council was today faced with a report from the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommending that all types of advertising fall under a new system that will mean “more red tape and higher costs”.

Advertisers and industry bodies would be able to self-assess ad content, but with this comes the introduction of ‘heavy sanctions’ for breaches of the code, the Communications Council noted.

“Self regulation would be permitted, but with a government official looking over your shoulder,” a Comms Council spokesperson said.

The senate’s report has been sent to federal government officials, who will decide whether or not to heed their recommendations with legislation. It is unclear how long the government will take to reach a verdict.

If the report’s recommendations take effect, this will mean that every piece of communications in every medium will need to be assessed either internally or externally against the classification codes – although the council said that precisely how the codes would work was vague, as was the sort of penalties that would be imposed.

The Communications Council’s CEO Daniel Leesong said: “Given the sheer volume of marketing communications, the proposed classification measures would burden large and small businesses. It will likely lead to lower productivity and increased costs despite the lack of evidence to justify a new scheme.”

Outdoor advertising took a hammering in the report, which pointed to statistics showing that complaints made about outdoor advertising have risen from 4% of all complaints in 2006, to one in four in 2010.

Groups such as Media Standards Australia, FamilyVoice Australia and the Australian Christian Lobby were quoted in the report complaing that outdoor vendors are too slow to take offending ads down, and gave examples of where they thought the Advertising Standards Bureau had failed to police inappropriate messages.

Three ads were singled out, one for Sprite.

The Advertising Standards Board considered the pose of the woman to be “so ridiculous that it was an obvious and clever use of self-referrential humour”. However, the Media Standards Australia criticised the ASB’s verdict, noting: “We see many ads with bikini-clad woman, but this one adds the words ‘sexy’ to the message, and includes the image of the neck of the bottle near her crotch. Despite the views of the Board, this renders the ad very suggestive and quite disgusting!!!”

An ad for Diesel prompted the lobby group Kids Free 2B Kids to note that they would like to see the industry become “more proactively responsible” for what children are exposed to in public.

Concerning an ad for Bardot Denim, Media Standards Australia questioned why, even if the ad was only ‘mildly’ sexually suggestive, it was allowed to remain in a public place.

Critics within the report also suggested that as a body funded by the advertising industry itself, the ASB was too self-interested to be an effective regulator.

Leesong objected: “99.98% of the outdoor ads displayed last year were in line with the various self-regulatory codes. As an industry we work hard to maintain these standards. The Senate report fails to acknowledge these figures. They are proposing a heavy handed approach to a system that is working effectively.”

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