Spanish baulk at new ad curbs

Spain’s principal political parties – Partido Popular (PP), PSOE (Socialists), Grupo Mixto, Izquierda Unida (IU) and Convergencia i Uni (CiU) – have united in calling for a new administrative body to be set up which would monitor and regulate advertising. If agreed, the proposal could become law as soon as this month. The country’s advertising community, however, believes it already faces excessive restrictions on its activity.

According to the Spanish newspaper ABC, the parties are not in agreement about exactly how the new body should be set up. PSOE, IU, CiU and Grupo Mixto believe it should consist of members elected by Parliament while Partido Popular, the ruling party, considers that a “Consejo Audiovisual” (audio-visual council) should be set up in parallel with the telecoms regulatory authority, CMT, in order to benefit from existing infrastructure.

Whatever its constitution the proposed council has unsettled agency representatives, including Rafael García Gutierrez, chairman of Autocontrol de Publicidad, the industry’s existing self-regulatory authority. Any development, Gutierrez believes, should build on the knowledge and expertise already in place.

García Gutierrez recognises that Autocontrol has no binding powers, but asserts that it works because there is a clear distinction between it and the agencies themselves. “Over the past year,” he told ABC, “there have been 172 rulings of which only two have not been respected. When cases have gone as far as the courts, they have made the same ruling as ourselves.” Furthermore, he does not believe that there exists a clear legislative gap. “Our guidelines take account of 300 norms laid down by the central, regional and municipal governments, many of which are incoherent or contradictory.”

José Manuel Villar, in charge of communications matters for the government, says he doesn’t understand this position. The proposed council, he says, “should be independent”.

“In any case,” Villar adds, “the text is a transposition of European Union rules which the Spanish Government is obliged to apply.”

Juan Ramòn Planas, director general of AEA, the Spanish advertisers association, told ABC that the advertising sector “is mature, responsible and a respecter of the law”.

“We want to avoid additional regulations because there is already too much legislation in existence which, whether it means to or not, strangles commercial liberty and that, in the long run, has an effect on GDP.”

It is hard to disagree with this sentiment. Wherever self-regulation has been established, it has proved to be the fastest and most effective way of controlling the behaviour of advertisers, while re-specting their need to function in a competitive environment. Excessive regulatory control is highly damaging to companies operating within a competitive business environment. It weakens the role of advertising in sustaining economic growth while doing nothing to benefit or protect consumers.

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