Ribena row is a kick in the teeth for ASA

Your story on the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) ruling against Ribena Tooth Kind (MW July 13) reported matter-of-factly that SmithKline Beecham (SB) is challenging the judgment in the High Court. But it did not analyse the significance of the action to advertising in general. This is no routine “freedom versus regulation” skirmish.

SB is challenging a decision by the ad industry’s self-regulatory body. The only grounds for such a “judicial review” is procedural unfairness. But SB has already appealed against this to the ASA’s independent reviewer, and lost. This review mechanism was only established a year ago, after an earlier flurry of public and aggressive dissent by major advertisers against ASA judgments.

All this at a time when the industry is fighting to preserve the “freedom to advertise”, concerned at proposals to up statutory regulation.

Public recalcitrance by major advertisers undermines the ASA’s authority and casts doubt on its competence to conduct investigations. They are effectively challenging the concept of self-regulation in adland.

If major advertisers have so little faith in self-regulation, why should anyone else? The industry’s obduracy only strengthens the case for statutory control. Everyone in the ad industry should hope this latest legal action fails.

JT Winkler

Food & Health Research

London N1

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