Countdown to our 50th anniversary: 1978
21 August 2012
Our 15th Annual Report marked an important year for the ASA, constitutionally speaking. While 1978 saw Anna Ford become the first female newsreader in the UK, and May Day become an official bank holiday, it was a year of flux for the future of self-regulation.
Our report reveals that the ASA took part in discussions with the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection about the nature of the ASA system, with two key proposals under discussion. One was the potential conversion of the ASA into a statutory body, with the other being the provision of some additional legal powers of enforcement to deal with the small number of advertisers for whom ASA sanctions were not effective.
The ASA Council was unanimously opposed to being turned into a statutory authority – arguing that it would undermine the substantial level of cooperation in enforcing the standards from all sides of the industry over the years.
Our view was that “Codes of practice which are genuinely self-regulatory and do not need all the paraphernalia of Parliamentary procedures to amend them to meet changing conditions and to solve problems as they are found to arise in practice, can serve the public better than statutory regulations and complicated, costly court procedures.”
The OFT review of the system, launched the previous year, came to much the same conclusion, rejecting the idea of interpreting the Code in an “excessively legalistic fashion”. In fact, the OFT liked the idea of a “self-regulatory system which is kept on its toes by its vulnerability to criticism both public and official”. However, it did suggest that improvements to the system were needed.
Thus, a consensus developed that would lead to the OFT Director General being acknowledged as well placed to back up the existing system with new statutory powers, so the Director General could seek an injunction against offending advertisers, acting as the ASA’s legal backstop.
Turning to other news in our 15th Annual Report, there was a focus on advertising to children, with the ASA producing a leaflet entitled “The Code and Children”, available free to the public. The ASA also produced an information film, cannily titled “A Question of Standards”, giving a digestible guide to the ASA. Cutting edge, it was in colour, lasted for 19 minutes, and was available on free loan from the Viscom Audio Visual Library on 16mm and video cassette.
Another big issue of the day was advertising for heating and insulation. High fuel costs in 1977 and the introduction of a Government energy conservation programme gave rise to claims by advertisers about savings to be made on heating costs, and also to complaint numbers from consumers.
In response, the ASA led a series of meetings with advertisers in the sector, and produced guidance to make clear what would be considered acceptable substantiation, and how the basis of comparisons should be presented, in order to ensure that consumers were not misled and could make informed decisions about their heating provisions. Problem solved.
Finally, as part of the ASA’s on-going monitoring work, one particular advertisement is singled out as having failed to comply with both the letter and spirit of the Code. It was “a double page, colour advertisement by a publisher promoting advertising space in his magazines, featured models dressed as provocative and seductive schoolgirls drinking wine and beer and surrounded by cigarettes and other products which had been advertised in the pages of those magazines during 1978.”
We would take a similarly dim view of any such advertisement if it were to appear in 2012, since it would contravene more Code rules than it is possible to list….
View the 1978 Annual Report here