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Thomas calls for updating laws to check misleading advertisements

New Delhi, Thu, 19 Apr 2012 ANI

New Delhi, Apr 19 (ANI): Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution K.V. Thomas has said that there is an urgent need to update laws and improve enforcement to protect consumers from misleading advertisements as despite several provisions, false and misleading advertisements continue to exploit consumers and now have a wider canvas.

He said that widely accepted opinion is that both self-regulation and legal controls should work in synergy.

Addressing a national seminar on misleading claims in advertisements organised by the Department of Consumer Affairs with a view to protect the consumers from exploitation, Thomas said: "As you all know the Department of Consumer Affairs has started country-wide consultations with all stakeholders on this important matter to elicit their views in order to come to a consensus on what suitable measures could be put in place to regulate such misleading advertisements."

"Advertisements have become a part and parcel of our lives today. However, it is necessary to use advertisements with caution to avoid a vicious effect on social values. Advertisements are a crucial aspect of any type of business because they promote products or let the public know about them. Consequently, when this route is exploited by unscrupulous businesses persons to mislead the public, then it may destroy the very image of advertising," he added.

Stating that advertising is a useful tool to give information which are factual and accurate, Thomas said: "Questions are frequently raised whether it creates class consciousness, materialism, conspicuous consumption and other values which are not universally accepted. For most companies, the question is how often to communicate with the consumers. To reach the target markets advertisers sometimes overstep the legal and social norms."

Thomas said the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.

"Nevertheless, the government is authorized to regulate commercial advertisements. It can restrict deceptive, unfair, false and misleading advertisements. An advertisement is termed deceptive when it misleads people affecting the purchasing behaviour of the consumer," said Thomas.

"In India, advertisements for cigarettes, liquor, pan masala (chewed tobacco), products that are harmful to the public continue to find a place in the TV channels, despite the ban imposed by the Government of India," he added.

Thomas said false and misleading advertisements continue to exploit the consumer despite several laws meant to protect consumers against such unfair trade practices.

"In fact such advertisements now have a wider canvas. While earlier, one saw them only in the print media, today you can see them on television, influencing a larger number of people and impacting even the illiterate," said Thomas.

"Proliferation of advertisements through television marketing networks promoting health cures, slimming and beauty gadgets of unproven value is a cause of great concern, because today the reach of television channels is phenomenal. And undoubtedly, the impact of the visuals on the television screen is far greater than the newspapers," he added.

Thomas further said outdated laws and poor enforcement of laws are the main reasons for the prevalence of any social malady and mal-advertising is no exception.

"The need of the hour, therefore, is better laws, their regular updation, improved enforcement and regular surveillance by the authorities. Widely accepted opinion is that both self-regulation and legal controls should work in synergy," he added.

Representatives of state governments, various central ministries, Advertising Council of India and consumer bodies attended the day-long seminar. (ANI)

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