South Africa: Advertising Law: What Authority Does The ASA Have?

Last Updated: 4 December 2015
Article by Gaelyn Scott

Most Read Contributor in South Africa, September 2016

In South Africa, the Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") is a voluntary body and its members agree to be bound by its rulings. Yet companies that aren't members of the ASA often find themselves before that body. In addition, if the ASA rules that a non-member's advert contravenes the Code of the ASA, the non-member company's advert is effectively dead in the water. But why is that? And is it right?

The ASA Code covers a wide range of issues. Among these are passing-off type issues; in other words, advertising that might cause confusion as to the origin of the goods as well as complaints involving alleged misrepresentations or advertising claims that cannot be substantiated. The case of Medical Nutritional Institute (Pty) Ltd v The Advertising Standards Authority (South Gauteng High Court 15/30142, 18 September 2015) falls into the second category. What makes this case so interesting, however, is not so much the nature of the complaint, but rather the fact that the case focused on the ASA' s jurisdiction.

The background to this case is that the Medical Nutritional Institute (Pty) Ltd ("MNI") sells a product called AntaGolin and its advertising material promises that the product "combats insulin and assists in weight loss". A medical activist challenged this claim with the ASA, which ruled that the advert contravened the ASA Code. It also issued a so-called "Ad Alert", a notice that alerts media companies to an ASA ruling. As all South African media companies are members of the ASA, it's the Ad Alert system that really gives ASA rulings their teeth because, even if the company that places the advert doesn't belong to the ASA, the media companies are obliged to refuse to publish the advert.

MNI, which is not a member of the ASA, found this unacceptable. So it applied to the high court for an urgent interdict (injunction) pending the institution of full trial proceedings. It wanted an order suspending the ASA's ruling. What MNI was basically saying, said Acting Judge Dippenaar, was that the ASA "is unlawful in purporting to be the regulator of the advertising industry and ... cannot arrogate to itself the right to control advertisements sought to be placed by non-members who do not subscribe to ... [its] code".

The papers filed by the two parties suggest that there are some very grey areas here. For example, who is responsible for regulating the advertising of complementary medicines – the ASA or the Medicines Control Council, or does this fall within the realm of the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 ("CPA")?  And what is the status of the ASA? Is it an "accredited regulator" under the CPA? Is it an organ of state? Is it regulated and recognised under the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 2002 ("ECTA") and, if so, what is the effect of that? Is the ASA in financial difficulty? MNI certainly seems to think it is, as it claimed that the ASA would not be able to meet a claim for damages that might be awarded against it. What is clear is that MNI is not the first company to challenge the ASA's jurisdiction – there is seemingly another similar high court case pending.

So what did Acting Judge Dippenaar make of all this? Well, in order to get an urgent interdict you only need to establish a few things. MNI did have a prima facie case in that the ASA's ruling against its advert was defamatory and injurious – the ASA's ruling also offended against the constitutional rights of freedom of association and speech. MNI had a reasonable apprehension of harm through loss of sales (MNI said that it had suffered damages of R25-million). And the balance of convenience did favour MNI. The judge therefore granted the interim interdict.

In the process, the judge made some interesting findings and remarks. She suggested that there were statutory regulators for products like AntaGolin, namely the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act, 1965 and the CPA. The judge said that the ASA's reliance on its apparent ECTA recognition was misplaced, because the ECTA regulates electronic communications and broadcast licensees rather than advertisers and, in any event, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa ("ICASA") is the body concerned with such complaints, not the ASA. She also found it relevant that the ASA had not received accreditation under the CPA.

The interim interdict issued by the judge is an interesting one. It stops the ASA from imposing any sanctions (including Ad Alerts) on AntaGolin. It also prevents the ASA from doing anything that stops MNI from asserting in adverts that AntaGolin combats insulin resistance and assists with weight loss. It also requires the ASA to remove its negative ruling against AntaGolin from its website. 

It's worth bearing in mind that this is simply an interim interdict, and that the judgment will eventually be replaced by one that follows a full trial during which the issues will be considered in far greater detail. In the interim, this decision is important when it comes to the issue of the powers that the ASA has in respect of adverts placed by companies that are not members of that body.

We will report on the outcome of the trial proceedings in due course.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.