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The authors of the Proclamation restricting advertisements which came into effect after its publication in the Federal Negarit Gazeta on August 27, 2012 were guided by the imputes that if advertising is not regulated it could harm the rights and interests of the people as well as the image of the country.
However it has many more restrictions and prohibitions than expected when it was drafted and seems to focus more on restrictions rather than improving advertising. This appears to be contradictory when the very introduction states that:
“Advertisement plays a significant role in the economic, social and political development of the country, by influencing the activities of the public in commodity exchange or service rendering.”
If it plays such a major role, then emphasis should be placed on improving the content not on restricting its use.
Starting from Part three (article 6) up to and including part seven (up to article 30) the proclamation contains restriction and limitations. Primarily the proclamation restricts any advertisement disseminated through newspapers and magazines not to exceed 60 percent of the whole content of each edition, (part five, and Article 20 sub-article 1). Violating this is punishable with a fine from 10,000 to 100,000 birr. This is a very exorbitant penalty.
Publishers time and again have complained that this article will have a damaging effect over the newspapers at a time of sharp printing price increase. One single paper with the price tag of from 6 to 7 birr is printed at a price of from 11 up to 14 birr at the government Berhanena Selam Printing Enterprise. It sounds very unsound but it is a fact.
How are the publishers expected to cover this difference? It is through advertisements. But advertisement is by law curbed. Plus, getting ads can be very challenging. In a country where advertisements are little acknowledged, getting them is a serious problem. In some cases advertisers may not see the case as a mutual benefit. In other cases they see it as if only the papers are beneficiaries. This indicates that advertising industry is only in the early stages. Considering this the limit further exacerbates the financial burden on the publishers.
Consider the magnitude of restrictions. Part three of article three states that “Advertisements may not be prepared and disseminated in the form of news.” It is customary to publish advertorials in the periodicals. These are materials that have news value and at the same are effectively advertisements. Publishers usually print under the ‘advertorial’ title in order to differentiate them from other materials. In this regard the proclamation, in the true sense of the term, has neglected the fact that news worthy stories have a promotional effect. For instance, newspapers usually report about the inauguration of new hotel citing its star rating, facilities and other services it renders. There is no doubt that this news has an advertisement value or effect.
The restriction goes on. Article 7 of part three states about unlawful or immoral advertisements, Article 8 is about misleading or unfair advertisements, article 9 is about advertisements that require special certification, article 10 advertisement affecting minors and so on. Article 8 has many accepted sub-articles such as: advertisement promoting a milk powder or similar meal as preferable or equivalent to breast feeding for children for children under the age of six months is seen as misleading. This has a positive impact in the society because mothers are advised to breast feed their children at least up to the age of six months. Advertisement promising speculative dividend earnings of shares offered for sale is also seen as misleading. This also has positive repercussion in the society because it protects people from speculative profit.
The restriction on advertisement containing superlatives such as ‘the first of its kind, the only one, for the first time, never ever before’ is a welcome legal support because these are words usually misleading.
Article 9 is confusing. It orders certain products or services to meet the mandatory standard requirement. It also prohibits unless a certificate of competence is obtained. The names of those prohibited items are not mentioned. In the Ethiopian Penal Code crimes that are not mentioned in the Code are not considered as crime. This is a clear and to the point message to both the law enforcers and crooks. One has to refrain from those crimes mentioned in the Penal Code. But this one without mentioning the materials that need certificate of competence, it prohibits from printing. How is it possible to identify the items that need certificate of competence from others? This is a question impossible to get the answer in the proclamation.
Article 10 sub-article 3 is rather puzzling. It reads, an advertisement “That openly motivates a minor to require his parent, guardian, tutor, or any other person to buy the advertised product or service,” is prohibited. The purpose of advertisement is to motivate the people. An advertisement that fails to do so is a dull one. This article is contrary to the principles of advertisement. How do advertisers come to know that a certain product has motivated minors?
Part four that deals about sponsorship, orders very many restrictions that are not allowed to be printed. Article 15 states that the content or the timetable of a sponsorship program may not fall under the influence of sponsor. “In particular a sponsored program may not agitate the sell or hire of the sponsor’s product or service,” it commands.
There are acceptable restrictions such as part six, article 25 that states about narcotic drugs, weapon, gambling witchcraft and cigarette. These are very useful articles to protect the people from taking possible dangerous items. Restricting the advertisement of usury is simply duplication of part three article 6 and sub article 1. Article 6 sub-article 1 states that not contrary to the law is allowed to be advertised. Usury in Ethiopian penal code is outlawed. It is already restricted by law. So that anything which is seen contrary to the penal code could not be liable to advertisement. That is why article 25 sub-article G is redundant.
Advertisement of liquor with more than 12 percent of alcohol content is allowed. It seems a bit confusing to accept advertisement of liquor with more than 12 percent of alcohol content on newspapers and restricting other media like radio and television.
Article 34 that talks about the penalty is amusing. A person violating this proclamation is punishable from 10,000 birr to 100,000 birr. But the law premeditates other laws for more severe penalty if there is any.
The introduction of the 40/60 arrangement under the new advertisement proclamation has all these loopholes that will create hard time for the publishers.