Sun, 08 Apr 2001

TV stations cautious over fight against cigarette ads

By Antariksawan Jusuf

JAKARTA (JP): Television stations are reacting cautiously over a possible class action lodged by a group of Indonesian foundations, demanding stricter control over broadcasting of cigarette advertisements.

"We will consider everything before making any decision. Certainly, we will make every effort to find a way which is beneficial to all parties," Indosiar Spokesman Gufroni Sakaril told The Jakarta Post.

Two cigarette producers, Gudang Garam and Mustang, have reportedly backed out from their commitment to sponsor seven live imported boxing bouts because SCTV offered them a delayed-match after 9:30 p.m. in order to follow government regulations, a source said. World's class boxing matches, which rank among the top programs in terms of viewer ratings, normally broadcast in the morning due to the time difference between Indonesia and the location of the event (mostly the United States).

Cigarette producers and their agencies select programs that attract male audiences such as boxing, football, and action movies to advertise their products.

The group of concerned organizations has published a demand letter (somasi) in several newspapers which could lead to a class action against to all commercial television stations, print media, radio stations, advertising agencies and cigarette producers for what they call "judicial violation of ... government regulations".

The group consists of the Indonesian Consumers Foundation, National Committee on Overcoming Cigarette Problems, Indonesian Heart Foundation, Indonesian Cancer Foundation, Indonesian Women Without Tobacco, Indonesian Asthmatic Children Foundation, Indonesian Stroke Foundation, Indonesian Doctors Association, Indonesian Students Senate Association, Indonesian Tuberculosis Association, Indonesian Journalists Association and Indonesian Teachers Association.

Among the obvious violations cited are advertisements which show people smoking, advertisings which show a pack of cigarettes and ads which trigger people to smoke.

The group gives a deadline until the end of March, or else they will lodge a class action against any parties violating the regulation.

The group said the class action will be filed because "the governments' institutions or organizations in charge of monitoring and watching advertising can not perform their duties properly."

They are referring to Directorate General for Drug and Food Control and the now-defunct information ministry. The latter, disbanded by President Abdurrahman Wahid, used to watch issues related to media and under which the Film Censorship Agency (LSF) is run.

The outdated Indonesian Broadcast law No. 24/97 stipulates that "advertisements of liquor and the likes, addictive substances and ads which show the use of cigarettes" is forbidden.

The Law also says all advertising materials should obtain a pass from LSF.

The regulation on the ban on cigarette advertising was issued by the government of former president B.J. Habibie in 1999. The regulation says cigarette ads are allowed only in print and outdoor media.

Shortly after the issuance of the regulation, Indonesian commercial stations and the Indonesian Advertising Agency Association (P3I) issued guidelines for advertising cigarettes on television, which includes not showing cigarettes, cigarette boxes or product logo. All ads should be broadcast after 9 pm.

According to the Indonesian Advertising Agency Association, clove-flavored cigarettes are the second largest contributor to TV advertising income. In 1999, it contributed Rp 164 billion for television stations, or 4.8 percent of total advertising income of TV stations (Rp 3.448 trillion). Ordinary cigarettes contributed Rp 76.586 billion.

Indonesia is known as a smokers haven. Hong Kong-based magazine Far Eastern Economic Review reported in its 22 March 2001 edition that despite the economic meltdown which cut the per capita income to $650 in 2000 from $1,100 in 1997, Indonesians do not stop smoking.

In 2000, Indonesians burnt 199 billion sticks and the number is expected to grow by 5 percent a year in the future as it has for most of the past 15 years.

That makes everybody worry.