Ad Standards Community Panel role

The role of the Ad Standards Community Panel is different from the role of the ACCC, the court, or the Ad Standards Industry Jury (which adjudicates truth in advertising disputes under the Code between competitors).

Under sections 2.1 of the AANA Food and Beverages Advertising and Marketing Code, Section 2.2 of the AANA Code for Advertising and Marketing to Children, and Section 1 (i) of the AANA Environmental Claims in Advertising and Marketing Code, the Community Panel considers whether advertisements:

  • are truthful and honest
  • are or are designed to be misleading or deceptive, and
  • mislead or deceive children.

The Community Panel does not determine as a legal matter whether an advertisement is misleading, nor does it reach a legal opinion. The Community Panel deals with complaints. Its task is to reflect the community's attitude—to assess whether the advertisement meets current community expectations for truthfulness given what the advertisement conveys to ordinary consumers.

The Community Panel has a special role given the broad principles in the various Codes and its role as set out in the Complaints provisions of the Codes and other sources such as the Food and Beverage Practice Note. The Community Panel reflects community standards and expectations and these necessarily change over time.

Complainants and advertisers each put their own submissions about what the community believes and understands, but it is for the Community Panel to assess what the community would take from an advertisement and whether reasonable members of the community would consider the advertisement misleading.

By upholding or rejecting a complaint, the Community Panel determines whether the community considers an advertisement acceptable or not. In this way, it provides guidance to advertisers and assists in maintenance of confidence in advertising.

Complaint process

People concerned about possible the truth and accuracy of statements or claims made in food advertisements or those with an environmental theme can make a complaint to Ad Standards. A complaint can be lodged via the Ad Standards website.

In relation to complaints concerning the truth and accuracy of claims about an advertisement Ad Standards requires people who make complaints to provide information about:

  • which specific statements in the advertisement they consider are untrue, and
  • what evidence there is to suggest that this information is incorrect.

In accordance with usual practice the Community Panel will consider the advertisement in its entirety and is not restricted to the issues raised by the complainant.

Obtaining expert advice

If a complaint is made that an advertisement is misleading or deceptive it is the responsibility of the advertiser to provide Ad Standards with sufficient information to enable the Community Panel to assess the accuracy of claims or statements made in an advertisement. In relation to food products, the information requested will usually be substantiation of the composition or nutritional profile of the food, but this will depend on the claims and statements made in the advertisement.

On occasions the information provided by the advertiser will be highly technical and it will be beneficial for the Community Panel or Ad Standards to obtain independent expert advice on the information so that it is able to be presented to the Community Panel in ‘lay’ terms. In such circumstances Ad Standards will engage the assistance of an independent expert.

Ad Standards seeks expert advice on food science matters. Advisors are engaged should issues raised require expertise.

Advertiser’s responsibilities

Following receipt of a valid complaint that an advertisement is misleading or deceptive, Ad Standards will contact the advertiser and ask the advertiser to provide substantiation for any claims (references and argument rather than source documents) in the advertisement. Advertisers must address all claims made in the advertisement, not just those the subject of complaint. Such information should be provided within the usual time for advertiser response (7 days) as claims should not be made without substantiation readily available.

Following receipt of the advertiser response, Ad Standards will request the assistance of the independent advisor should the CEO or Community Panel consider that independent scientific advice would be of assistance in helping the Community Panel to:

  • understand the information provided in order to assess whether it is ‘truthful’, and
  • understand the information in order to consider whether the message is likely to be considered misleading or deceptive.

The independent advisor will be asked to provide advice on the advertisement, the complaint and the advertiser substantiation in particular:

  • whether the substantiation for claims made is robust,
  • if not robust, what areas of the claim are not scientifically supported, and
  • whether there is scientific consensus on the issue or debate.

It is not the independent advisor’s role to comment on the message that a consumer might take from the advertisement or to provide advice on whether the advertisement is misleading or deceptive.

The independent advisor will provide advice as quickly as practicable, but a strict timeframe will not always be possible as the advisor has other employment.

Following receipt of the independent advice, Ad Standards will furnish a copy of the request for advice and the advice to the advertiser and provide a reasonable time for response. What is reasonable will depend on the complexity of the matter, bearing in mind the importance of speedy resolution of complaints.

The Community Panel will consider:

  • the advertisement
  • all complaints
  • the advertiser response
  • the independent advice where obtained
  • the advertiser response to the independent advice, and
  • any other information provided by Ad Standards.

In accordance with usual practice the Community Panel will consider the advertisement in its entirety and is not restricted to the issues raised by the complainant.

Any confidential commercial information identified by the advertiser in its substantiation will not be included in the case report. The conclusions of the independent advisor will be published in the case report but not necessarily the entire analysis.

Usual procedures will be followed after the Community Panel’s determination on the complaint.

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