Christopher Graham

The director general of the Advertising Standards Authority responds to an article by DJ Taylor, in which he described the authority as 'toothless'
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The Independent Online

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) came in for criticism last week. But there's nothing new about that. There were the predictable howls of anguish from some of the advertisers we criticised. And then there was DJ Taylor in The Independent.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) came in for criticism last week. But there's nothing new about that. There were the predictable howls of anguish from some of the advertisers we criticised. And then there was DJ Taylor in The Independent.

The ASA's July report detailed nearly 100 adjudications. One of these, against SmithKline Beecham's advertising for Ribena ToothKind, was published despite the threat of a judicial review from the advertisers. Ask SmithKline Beecham if the ASA is toothless - or any of the other major advertisers on the wrong end of ASA judgements.

As a sanction, negative publicity can be very effective. Press coverage of the Ribena judgement brought the claims of "functional foods" into focus, sending out a warning to advertisers that they must hold strong proof to back up their claims - or pay a public price.

Our bite can be just as effective as our bark. When bad publicity is not enough, we can refer misleading advertisers to the Office of Fair Trading. And we stay on the case with post-investigation monitoring and repeat-offender procedures.

But self-regulation means that the ASA rarely has to bare its teeth. Of non-broadcast advertisements, 97 per cent comply with the British codes of advertising and sales promotion. The ASA checks over 10,000 ads a week to maintain these levels.

Mr Taylor characterised last week as "not, all in all, a good few days in which to have sat in the ASA's HQ". Having started the week initiating a fundamental review of the organisation following my first 100 days, I do not feel that way. Consumers have high expectations of the ASA, and these will only get higher. There are one or two things that we need to fix. But that doesn't mean the system's broke.

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