Broadcast advertising in the UK has always been subject to regulation by statutory bodies. The latest regulatory body, set up by the Communications Act 2003, is Ofcom, which has its own statutory code of advertising standards and practice.
Ofcom grants licences to broadcasters; it is a condition of these licences that the broadcasters ensure that all the advertising which they transmit complies with the TV Advertising Standards Code and that it has procedures in place to enable them to do so. Should a broadcaster fail to have adequate procedures to pre-vet advertising, Ofcom is empowered to impose sanctions, including financial penalties and, in extreme cases, the curtailment and eventual rescinding of the broadcaster’s licence.
Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom are entitled to contract out some of their responsibilities and this is what they have done to the ASA(B) who will investigate and adjudicate on complaints for all forms of broadcast advertising.
In order to fulfil the conditions of their licences, as well as providing a service to advertisers and advertising agencies, most broadcasters contribute to running the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC), a specialist body responsible for the pre-transmission examination and clearance of television advertisements.
BACC has two principal functions: the examination of pre-production scripts and the pre-transmission clearance of finished television advertisements. With the exception of a minority of local advertisements, which may be cleared by the broadcaster concerned, all finished advertisements appearing on BACC members stations must be viewed and given clearance by BACC prior to transmission. Although the submission of pre-production scripts is not compulsory, the great majority of advertisers and agencies avail themselves of this service. Consequently it is unusual for a finished commercial to be rejected when it is viewed by BACC and only a small proportion require some amendment before being cleared for transmission. In 2006, BACC dealt with 25,369 pre-production scripts and 52,600 finished advertisements.
BACC currently consists of more than 40 staff; the provision of advice on pre-production scripts is carried out by six teams of four people. The broadcasters exercise professional control over the activities of the BACC through the Copy Committee, which consists of six senior representatives from television companies and meets once a month. This Committee directs policy and offers guidance on contentious projects particularly where a resolution cannot be reached in the normal course of discussion.
BACC routinely requires substantiation to be provided in support of claims in advertisements and this substantiation is referred, where appropriate, to one of the specialist consultants in medical and many other areas, retained by BACC.
BACC also publishes extensive Notes of Guidance – which expand on and clarify the rules contained in the BCAP Advertising Standards Code for TV – these are regularly updated.