In India, there are mechanisms for regulating advertisement which are both in the nature of self regulation and regulation by statutory rules and regulations. However, to a large extent advertisement regulation in print and electronic media is in the realm of self regulation.

There are several self regulating bodies in print and electronic media which are concerned with regulating the content in media. These bodies include News Broadcasters Association (NBA), Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Editors Guild of India which are primarily concerned with the content of print and electronic media. On the other hand, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is the main self regulating body regulating advertisement in media.

The ASCI is a self-regulatory organization for the advertising industry. ASCI seeks to ensure that advertisements conform to its Code for Self-Regulation, which requires advertisements to be legal, decent, honest and truthful and not hazardous or harmful while observing fairness in competition. The ASCI and its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) deals with complaints received from consumers and Industry, against advertisements which are considered as False, Misleading, Indecent, Illegal, leading to Unsafe practices, or Unfair to competition, and consequently in contravention of the ASCI Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising.

One of fundamental principles enshrined in the ASCI code is to ensure the truthfulness and honesty of representations and claims made by advertisements and to safeguard against misleading advertisements.

The ASCI code has provisions which require that advertisements must be truthful. It requires that all descriptions, claims and comparisons which relate to matters of objectively ascertainable fact should be capable of substantiation and advertisements shall neither distort facts nor mislead the consumer by means of implications or omissions.

The problem of misleading advertisements and the consequent unfair trade practices that arise is widespread across all sectors and media in India. ASCI has taken steps to curb this menace by way of upholding complaints against such advertisements and asking violators to either modify or pull off such ads.

However, since the role of the ASCI is only recommendatory and it lacks mechanism to enforce its advisory/orders, the menace of misleading advertising continues to grow, affecting consumers in an adverse way.

In recent times, there have been developments which have led to increased recognition of the role of ASCI in regulating advertisement.

Earliest statutory recognition of ASCI came when ASCI code was recognized under 'The Cable Television Network Rules, 1994' which states that 'No advertisement which violates the Code for self-regulation in advertising, as adopted by the Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI), Mumbai, for public exhibition in India, from time to time, shall be carried in the cable service.' The aforesaid rule gave legislative sanction to the ASCI code in regulating TV commercials. However, this particular recognition of ASCI was limited to only advertisement on cable services.

Recently, in order to strengthen its mission towards self-regulation in advertising, Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA), of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has made ASCI "Executive Arm" for handling all complaints pertaining to misleading advertisements. The ASCI has been entrusted with the job to process the consumer complaints on the DoCA'sweb portal GAMA (Grievances Against Misleading Advertisements) across media like print, packaging, internet, outdoor, wall paintings, posters, bill boards, etc. Initially, six priority sectors viz. Agriculture and food, Health, Education, Housing, Financial services, E-commerce have been covered.

DoCA has termed its partnering with ASCI as an important step in empowering self-regulatory bodies and demonstrating "More Governance – Less Government." It is believed that this partnership will go a long way in ensuring that all ads released in India are honest, decent, safe and fair.

Next official recognition to the role of ASCI came from the Department of Transport, Uttar Pradesh which requested the ASCI to enforce Responsible Advertising in Auto sector. The Department, strongly backing efforts of ASCI in promoting responsible advertising, requested ASCI to instruct the advertising agencies to adhere to the self-regulatory code and take action against automotive advertisements that depict violation of traffic rules.

Very recently, the National Apex Committee for Stem Cell Research and Therapy (NAC-SCRT) joined hands with ASCI to monitor advertisements that claim stem cell based therapies. ASCI in partnership with the Ministry of Health has taken steps to curb unlawful advertisements promoting medical practices not approved by regulatory authorities and made several advertisers to amend the web-site content.

Earlier the work of ASCI was also recognized by various government bodies such as Ministry of Information Broadcasting (MIB), Medical Council of India (MCI), etc. In August 2014, MIB issued advisory to various TV channels against non-compliance of ASCI's code of self-regulation holding that such non-compliance is violation of the Rule 7(9) of the Advertising Code as contained under Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994.

In view of recent recognition of the role of ASCI by Governmental bodies and departments, ASCI has come to acquire a predominant role as advertising regulator, particularly in regulation of misleading advertisements in India. Now, the status of ASCI as an independent regulator of advertising is more or less akin to self regulating advertising bodies in other countries such as Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) in United Kingdom.

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