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Goan students draft a petition to regulate ads

With an aim to regulate advertisements that have a direct impact on children, six students of VM Salgaocar College of Law took the initiative to draft a petition. NT KURIOCITY finds out more

ANNA FERNANDES | NT KURIOCITY

With the prevalence of potentially misleading advertisements, the negative influence it could have on consumers – in particular children – stands as a great cause of concern. Thus, in a bid to regulate advertisements that have a direct impact on children, students of VM Salgaocar College of Law, namely Shamita Nadkarni, Malavika Thampi, Nandgopal P, Rajdurga Gaonkar, Roma Kantak, and Nishika Vaz took the initiative to draft a petition.  

On the suggestion of their professors BS Patil, Shaber Ali, Aurobindo Gomes Periera and Hegel Da Costa, they launched a project titled ‘Regulation in Advertisement Directing to Children (RADC)’, under the college’s consumer clinic programme in August 2018. The project aimed at addressing the deceptive nature of advertisements, the indifference of advertisers and the impact they have on consumers. Children, according to them, are the easiest targets and are more susceptible to misleading advertising. Apart from health issues like obesity, diabetes, etc, that could be the result of false advertising, children are also vulnerable to other behavioural consequences.

The team headed by Shamita and Malavika drew up a consumer rights petition that outlines the need to appoint an authority to formulate rules and regulations regarding advertisements of food products that cater to children. The petition was also presented at the Second Regional Consultation on Strengthening and Promoting Law Clinics in India, hosted by VM Salgaocar College of Law in association with Jindal Global Law School, Haryana.

Further, they conducted surveys at malls and shopping centres in Panaji and Ponda. They also conducted programmes in schools which gave them an insight into children’s views in this regard. “Through our research, we realised the lucrative nature of the food and marketing industry and how children are the decisive investment for these companies,” says Nandgopal. The petition, therefore, is a small step towards the welfare and protection of children, he adds.

The research revealed that most advertisements target children rather than adults. And they state that it is unethical to target child consumers as they lack the experience and knowledge to understand and critically evaluate the purpose of persuasive advertising appeals. “For example, various packaged food companies target children for the sale of their products by using various means of promotion, like the inclusion of gifts along with products. Children often get attracted to these items or the celebrities linked to the ad, and force their parents to buy the product regardless of the consequences. It is our aim that advertisers specifically target parents as the sole consumer; and treat children as the beneficiaries,” Shamita says.

The students further explain that in India, the laws that prohibit advertisements targeted at children or restrict the use of licensed characters or celebrities in advertisements to appeal to children, are limited.

“For example, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), 1985 is a self-regulatory voluntary organisation of the advertising industry in India that works towards ensuring the protection of the interest of consumers with regard to false advertisements. However, as a self-regulatory authority, it can only recommend and cannot pass a binding order,” says Malavika

Similarly, they say, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation established in 1974 by NARC that promotes responsible children’s advertising, is also self regulated and deliberately subjective.

Referencing the Consumer Protection Bill 2019 tabled by the Union of Food and Consumer Affairs (passed by the both houses and pending the President’s assent) that aims to impose stiff penalties on manufacturers and celebrities endorsing false or misleading advertisements, the students say: “The Consumer Protection Bill 2019 is a welcomed step as it speaks of celebrity advertisements and the liabilities of celebrities but the code of conduct of ethical advertisements is not a part of its agenda.”

The petition that has been drafted will be submitted to the ASCI. “We will file the petition through the consumer council and if the need arises we will knock the door of the court,” Malavika adds.

The students are optimistic about the future of the petition, and hope to make a difference. “Working on this petition has been an eye-opening experience. It has made me aware about how oblivious our current laws are in protecting infants and children from the exploitation that they are subjected to,” says Nishika.

Stressing on the need for consumer awareness, Roma says: “The consumer needs to make the right decisions and there is a need of ethical advertisement so that it does not mislead people into buying potentially harmful products.”

“As a consumer not everyone is aware about the market and the strategies used by these agencies,” adds Rajdurga, further emphasising the need for consumer awareness. “Through our research we came across many unethical practices that are faced by many people throughout the world and especially by the younger generations.”

“It is heartening to see our students getting motivated to work towards this cause,” says professor Patil who was instrumental in guiding the students through the process. “We believe that addressing this issue is the need of the hour and we want to establish an ethical code of conduct. This is a social issue that calls for immediate action,” says Shamita.

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