Democratic Alliance (Cape Town)

11 December 2012

South Africa: Advertising Standards Authority Must Protect Consumers and Not Play Politics

press release

The DA will today lodge formal appeals against the decisions (see 1and 2) by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to not investigate two complaints lodged by the DA against misleading advertising blitzes by the Basic Education Department (DBE) regarding the Limpopo textbook saga and government's progress in eliminating mud schools.

The ASA is supposed to be "an independent body" set up to "ensure that its system of self-regulation works in the public interest".

These decisions, however, seem to continue the current trend of various institutions shielding the government and ANC from oversight.

The ASA indicated that it will not investigate the Limpopo textbooks ads on the grounds that it deemed the publication as a statement and not an advert because the advert used the wording "A statement by the Department of Education".

We will appeal the Directorate decision on the following grounds:

• The DBE itself acknowledged in parliamentary questions that the publications were advertisements stating "the advertisements were placed in all the major newspapers';

• The newspaper space was paid for by the DBE and it was not an editorial;

• The text clearly falls within the definition of 'advertisement' in terms of Section I (4.1) of the ASA Code with it being a visual communication used to promote their service with regard to textbook delivery and explicitly appealed for 'support from members of society, including section 27, and its allies'

The refusal to investigate the mud school campaign was based on similarly shaky principles.

ASA indicated that: "Your organisation is an opposition to the ruling party and it is complaining about the Department which is governed by the same ruling party shows an interest of some sort. In light of this, your complaint cannot be considered as a consumer complaint as it appears that you might have a political interest in the matter which makes it a political complaint".

We will appeal this decision on the following grounds:

• A rejection of the Directorate's baseless and ironically politically loaded assumption that the complaint registered was a political complaint. The DA laid a formal complaint to the ASA in the public interest based on merit and substance, as articulated and substantiated in the founding complaint.

• The weak and vague assumption by the Directorate that conflates party and government denies the basic principle of the separation of powers which must distinguish a political party (the ANC) from government (the DBE).

• The complaint falls within the definition of "consumer complaint" as outlined in section i (4.14) of the ASA code, which states that "consumer complaints" mean "complaints lodged by members of the public or by entities or organizations regarding consumer related matters, concerning compliance with the Code by an advertisement or advertiser".

The DA will appeal these decisions to the Advertising Standards Committee and request that the decision to not proceed with the investigation be overturned and that an investigation proceeds.

We believe that the DBE's advertisements were misleading. The ASA has a duty to protect consumers and the public from being misled - it is not its duty to shield government from oversight.

Annette Lovemore, Shadow Minister of Basic Education

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