Commercial advertisements were first transmitted on British television in 1955, and prior to 1962 regulation and control of advertising had been based on a number of voluntary codes. However, the system lacked any overall coherence. It was felt that some external regulation was necessary to preserve public confidence. The creation of the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) was designed to remedy this and to ensure that non-broadcast advertisements are ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’ by requiring that the rules contained in the British Codes of Advertising are followed by all advertisers (advertisements on television and cable programmes are regulated by the Independent Television Commission). Although the principle of self-regulation still applies—the Codes are drawn up by the advertising industry—there are numerous statutes which may affect advertisements. Following government criticism, the Code of Practice was strengthened in 1974 and the work of the ASA is now funded by a levy placed on display and direct mail advertising, collected by a separate body in order to preserve ASA independence.
   There are an estimated 30 million advertisements published in the UK each year and these produce around 10,000 complaints to the ASA, of which some 25 percent are upheld. In addition to reacting to complaints, the ASA will also carry out its own checks to ensure compliance with the Codes. ASA powers include ordering adverts to be withdrawn overnight, temporarily removed or changed, with the potential ultimate penalty of a referral to the Office of Fair Trading and criminal proceedings. However, proceeding to court is used only as a last resort, as advertisers falling foul of the Codes of Practice will be subject to adverse publicity through the ASA’s monthly report which is widely circulated through the industry.
   Cigarette advertising has proved one of the most controversial areas, and a specific Code exists which strictly limits the content and context of such advertisements. Other specific categories of advertisements that are singled out include alcoholic drinks, health and beauty and medicines. The ASA may also be consulted in an advisory capacity by advertisers seeking to pre-empt potential problems. The ASA is a founder member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance, which includes all EU members, and a complaint made to ASA regarding an advertisement originating outside of the UK will be referred by the ASA to the national regulatory body in question.
   See also: advertising, television and video; National Viewers and Listeners Association; regulatory bodies

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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