Information Ministry Insists on Approving Ads

In an effort to protect consumers from false advertising, the Ministry of Information has issued an order requiring advertisers to obtain permission before publishing or broadcasting their ads.

Some welcome the ministry’s new initiative as an attempt to eliminate false information about products and services, but others criticize the move as anti-democratic and said it would hinder business activities.

Information Minister Lu Lay­sreng signed the directive last week.

According to a copy, advertisers are required to submit a draft of the ad text, video and audio on products and services they plan to promote through the media. Only those authorized by the ministry can be broadcast or published, the directive says.

Advertisers are asked to obtain permission by the end of this year. Otherwise, media and advertisers will be penalized, senior officials said.

“It’s not a censorship [issue] to control businesses,” Khieu Kan­ha­rith, Information Ministry secretary of state, said Monday. “We have seen false advertisements that induce consumers [to make the] wrong conclusions. We want to protect consumers.”

Khieu Kanharith said the ministry especially is concerned over advertisements on pharmaceutical and food products, which often contain false information.

Earlier this year, the ministry attempted to crack down on ads that promote “herbal cures” for AIDS by asking all media to obtain ministerial permission before publishing or broadcasting such advertisements.

Khieu Kanharith said the directive also would set new standards of ethics by not allowing advertisers to criticize competitors’ products.

A ministry committee currently is setting up advertising standards and criteria, and specific procedures and fees to obtain permission, according to senior officials.

Don Sammuon, the ministry’s undersecretary of state in charge of audio-visual, said that advertisers will be required to obtain permission every time they plan to advertise new products or services.

But, he said, hotels and restaurants do not need to get permission for every ad to promote seasonal rates or special menus if the ministry already has authorized their intention to promote services or goods. Ads on tobacco, beers and mobile telephones also do not need to be inspected every time as long as the companies are promoting the same products as in their first application.

Don Sammuon said that media and advertisers who run commercial advertisements without permission will receive a warning first and such ads will be seized from the media immediately. If media and advertisers continue such practices, they will be penalized based on laws, he added. Penalizing violators will start on Jan 1, 2000, he said. False advertising could carry penalties of up to 5 million riel ($1,300), according to the country’s press law.

No one contacted in Cambodia’s business community had yet received a copy of the directive. But some said they welcomed the new initiative even though it would require another bureaucratic step.

“Some companies publish something that is not true,” said Chea Sophea, Shell’s assistant manager in marketing. “It could eliminate false advertisements. Hopefully the government will implement it correctly.”

Paul Guymon, senior project manager at International Management & Investment Consultants Ltd, which monitors the media, sees the new regulation one of the least restrictive in Southeast Asia. He said, for example, in Thailand every ad is required to go through a government censorship board and pass standards on wording, image and design.

“The [Cambodia] directive is good for companies who would like to protect their products from other illegitimate products,” Guymon said.

However, others worry it might negatively affect the free market economy.

“On one hand it could protect consumers, but on the other hand it would slow down business activities,” Te Duong Tara, economic adviser to the Council of Ministers, said Tuesday.

A Cambodian analyst sees the ministry’s attempt an anti-democratic move.

“They are hitting on both the wild goose and golden goose at the same time. If they want to protect consumers, they should do it in a more liberal way,” the analyst said.

(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong and Ham Samnang)


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