Print Edition - 2012-11-03  |  On Saturday

out of the cubicle

- KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI
out of the cubicle

Nov 2, 2012-

Advertising is widely recognised as a significant branch within the broad sphere of communication. The concept of advertising has always been entrenched in the idea of helping consumers make better decisions when it comes to their consumption, and to provide wider choices in the competitive market. Any restriction that is put upon advertisements, therefore, amounts to a violation of not just consumers’ right to choose, but also of their right to information, something that is guaranteed by the constitution of Nepal and international treaties. Such a violation, however, is currently on the cards in the country, with the government preparing to take strict measures to moderate advertisements related to the service sectors.  

I was recently informed by a senior minister of the Cabinet that the restrictions would, in fact, mainly impact the health and education sectors. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Population are reportedly mulling over different measures to control commercials, a move that derives from a directive issued by the prime minister’s office. The reasoning is that these sectors are in danger of being over-commercialised and thereby conducive to ‘unhealthy competition’ among stakeholders.  

The recently-unveiled Immediate Governance and Economic Action Plan—2012, which details the government’s new strategy, also contains a provision that requires private educational institutions to obtain prior consent from concerned agencies with regards to the content and budget for planned advertisements. If this directive were to be implemented, the independence and freedom of such institutions to advertise according to their needs would be severely curbed, which would go against various constitutional and legal provisions, including those listed in international treaties. Article 27 of the interim constitution (2007), for instance, clearly states: “every citizen shall have the right to demand and seek and obtain information on any matters of concern to himself or herself or to the public.” Similarly, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1946) also deems that “everyone has the right to

freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”In this age of continuously expanding and streamlined information and communication technologies, advertising in the media is an important source of knowledge for the public regarding available products and services, and restrictions on such a medium will definitely impede this flow of information. Obviously, this is not to imply that the realm of advertising and the service sectors are free from malpractices and other issues, or that regulation is entirely unnecessary. There is no doubt that the advertising sector in Nepal is mired in heightened competitiveness, a fact exacerbated by the lack of effective mechanisms to monitor content, something that is bound to have enormous repercussions on advertisers, advertising agencies and media institutions in the future.  

That said, just handing out broad bans on ads related to specific sectors, without first investing time in formulating a clear overarching policy, is not the way to go. Advertising in Nepal has been growing of late, and the industry is only looking to get bigger and more influential in the coming years, which is why the time is now ripe to really comb through its workings via regulatory mechanisms, refer to examples from other countries, and go beyond simplistic analyses and generalisations to create laws and policies that are specific, well-informed, and pragmatic.

Published: 03-11-2012 09:37

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