Mumbai: Products that thrive on magic and superstitious beliefs could well be yanked off mainline TV networks.
Taking a serious view of advertisements for pendants, amulets and rings on TV channels, the ministry of law and justice has written to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) seeking its views on bringing such ads under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act. ASCI is a self-regulatory governing body of the advertising industry.
“The Law Commission wants your views on the observations of the high court of Punjab and Haryana regarding advertisements pertaining to astrology,” the ministry wrote to ASCI.
ASCI “endorses” the suggestion of the high court. In its reply to the ministry, the association said: “ASCI believes that any claim in advertising for products and services which cannot be factually or technically or scientifically or clinically substantiated should not be permitted.”
Its letter also quoted a previous instance where ASCI had upheld a complaint against a TV commercial for “kavach” (amulet) that claimed to have powers to improve business, offer protection from accidents, and bring happiness and wealth.
Paritosh Joshi, chief executive officer of the STAR CJ Network India Pvt. Ltd, said the sale of such products is a thriving industry and nearly all channels are airing them.
“Broadcasters sell off their late-night inventory to small companies, which in turn sell it to manufacturers of these suspect products. In many cases, the broadcasters have no direct association with the manufacturer ,” he said.
Hunting down these manufacturers is not an easy task, he said, as “they disappear and resurface under different brand names”.
Rohit Gupta, president, Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd, which runs Sony, said: “So far the government has no restrictions on advertising of astrological products. We continue to run such advertising. But if tomorrow there is some legislation that limits such advertising, we will certainly abide by it. It’s not likely to have much of an impact on us as it’s a very small part of our overall advertising.”
Many channels declined to comment for this story.
An official from Star News, broadcast by Media Content and Communications Services India Pvt. Ltd, said that unlike tobacco, astrology is not addictive. “There’s a genuine product that’s being bought and sold and it’s harmless. When the government cannot contain astrology as a practice, why is it trying to ontain products related to it?” he asked.
Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), a body that fights superstitious beliefs and practices, had moved the ministry of information and broadcasting in April to stop the promotion of such products on television. MANS had also undertaken a signature campaign against such ads, said Narendra Dabholkar, a representative of the group.
The media-buying community is, however, not impressed with such arguments. Manoj Malkani, vice-president of MPG, a part of Havas Media, said that as astrology is a part of people’s lives, the sale of products related to it can’t be curbed. “If you curtail such advertising on the grounds that it’s for bogus, ineffective products, the same can be said for fairness creams or various other items. Most brands make tall claims,” he said.