Celebrities, even those honoured with country’s highest awards, should be fined and even jailed if they are involved in misleading advertisements of products, a parliamentary panel has recommended.
In its report on the Consumer Protection Bill 2015, the Parliamentary Standing Committee has suggested fines up to Rs 50 lakh, or even more, and jail terms of five years or more for repeat offenders making false claims about products in advertisements.
“Several eminent public personalities or celebrities who are honoured with national awards such as Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Bharat Ratna etc for excelling in various walks of life are often engaged as brand ambassadors for promoting various products. Such personalities are deployed to make advertisements which are often misleading by making unrealistic claims. The consumers tend to believe such advertisements promoted by eminent personalities or celebrities blindly. However, when the unfair trade practices are exposed, the celebrities are quick to dissociate themselves with the products/companies they were hitherto representing,” the committee said in its report, closely describing a recent incident in which India’s cricket captain M S Dhoni had to dissociate himself from a real estate company following complaints by flat buyers about claims made by the company.
The committee suggests that in such incidents celebrities must not be allowed to escape without any penalties in future.
“The committee strongly feels that misrepresentation of a product, especially a food product, should be taken very seriously, considering the influence of celebrities and high net-worth individuals or companies. The existing laws are not deterrent enough to discourage manufacturers or publishers from using such personalities for misleading advertisements. The committee, therefore, recommends that stringent provisions may be made in the Bill to tackle misleading advertisements, as well as to fix liability on endorsers/celebrities,” it said.
It went on to suggest that for a first time offence, the celebrity may be penalised with either a fine of Rs 10 lakh and imprisonment of up to two years, or both. The penalty should be increased to Rs 50 lakh fine and up to five years of imprisonment for the second offence. “…for subsequent offences, the penalties may be increased proportionately based on the value of sales, or volumes of such products or services,” it said.
The committee asked the Consumer Affairs Ministry, which is piloting the Bill, to add new provisions to strengthen the Bill. In particular, it called for legal teeth to the Advertising Standards Council of India so that it can crack down on misleading advertisements, force the advertiser to issue a corrective advertisement or take punitive action against the defaulting companies.