AD FREEDOMS IN PERIL

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While we celebrate 50 years of U.S. TV advertising, governments are tightening the reins on advertising in other corners of the globe.

The reasons vary: For some governments, the justification is to curb consumer confusion; others appear to be making advertising a scapegoat for public discontent. But in each case, access to consumers is being limited by government fiat.

Ostankino Television, Russia's main state-run channel, reportedly plans to ban TV commercials outright-calling them a source of social disruption-until strict rules can protect "society and ethical standards." The ban was announced two days after President Boris Yeltsin banned media ads for tobacco and alcohol.

In China, a new advertising law went into effect Feb. 1 banning tobacco advertising in print, TV, radio, cinema and many public places. The law also raises penalties for false or misleading advertising.

The European Union, as we have noted previously in this space, is considering a proposal that could ban advertising from TV channels of the future, such as home shopping, pay-per-view or movie-on-demand channels. The argument is that viewers won't be able to distinguish ads from the programming.

Governments, properly, can protect consumers and honest advertisers from demonstrably false ad claims. But to ban ads because they might confuse hurts consumers and competition far more than it helps.

Today's consumer in China, Italy, Russia, France or wherever is sophisticated enough to know when someone's trying to sell them something. Give their marketers the chance to do it.

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